Retreat at Currency Exchange, one of Theaster Gates’s several projects on the 300 block of E. Garfield Blvd., also known as the Arts Block, has many façades besides the wall revealing the building’s past as an actual place to cash checks and pay utility bills.  A café and artist working space by day, Retreat at Currency Exchange moonlights as a bar on Thursdays and Fridays for happy hour, from 5pm to its 9pm close.

If Starbucks exists for some as the “third place” between home and work, Retreat exists for artists and members of the community as a homegrown third place between home and gallery.

Gates’s trademark inclination—of using his urban planning background to repurpose the detritus of white flight and disinvestment into an elegant statement—is on full display at this location, where everything has an artistic bent. The chipping paint walls of the former Currency Exchange are lined with bookshelves and comfortable seating areas; director of music programming Baredu Ahmed’s carefully curated list of jazz, house, neo-soul, afro-beats, and other styles fill the space (when it’s not filled by the music of a live ensemble, as it is most Thursdays); and Jason Vazquez, director of operations, uses his mixologist background and his time at the Art Institute of Chicago to create riffs on classic cocktails that speak to the community. His Controlled Currency cocktail uses bourbon, coffee liqueur, and cold brew made by CTRL Z, the Retreat-based coffee brand headed by Zandro Zafra, who uses Costa Rican coffee beans roasted in Chicago.

“It is a rotating menu,” said Vazquez. “We had more of a summer menu recently and now we’re gonna go into fall and winter with more flavors, you know, darker spirits, spices, cinnamon, vanilla, pumpkin spice.”

Previously, Retreat at Currency Exchange hosted pop-ups by local chefs on occasion, but Sabina Bokhari, director of communications and philanthropic initiatives for Gates’s Rebuild Foundation, said to be on the lookout for a resident chef by the end of the month.“We consider it as an incubator for culinary entrepreneurs…We are really intent on making sure that we’re supporting BIPOC culinary entrepreneurs through this residency program, where they’ll have a brick-and-mortar space to serve out of if they haven’t before, and are able to cultivate a community on the South Side,” said Bokhari.

Pro tip: Be sure to bring cash to tip the bartender, as their credit card reader did not allow for a tip on a card at the time. (Francisco Ramírez Pinedo)

Happy Hour, Retreat at Currency Exchange, 305 E. Garfield Blvd. Happy hour Thursday and Friday, 5pm–9pm. Coffee bar open Monday–Friday, 8am–5pm. Instagram: @retreatcurrencyexchange

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *