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M Lounge Preserves Live-Music, Customer Care in South Loop

M Lounge, a family-owned local live-jazz lounge, has been serving up hand-crafted cocktails and customer care on the 1500th block of Wabash since 2006. Photo Credit: Bianca Smith

Dimmed lights, velvet seating and serene jazz all transform what used to be an old office space into a mature, mellow oasis that houses Chicago-based artists, carefully crafted cocktails and a “Cheers-like” atmosphere reminiscent of the 1990s TV sitcom.

Husband and wife duo Reginald and MaryAnn Marsh introduced the South Loop community to M Lounge going on nine years ago, a tavern equipped with a “living room” feel and free live music.

“We’ve lived in the South Loop for about 13 years and when we moved here, there wasn’t a whole lot going on as far as entertainment infrastructure,” Reginald Marsh said. “We thought it would be a great place to add a lounge to the community so they would have someplace else to go.”

During the early stages of  M Lounge’s development, a small group of residents in a building on the same block presented its concerns to the city after seeing the bar’s proposed liquor license posted on the window of the location.

“Without any investigation, the liquor commission originally denied our license in a letter stating we were going to have a ‘deleterious’ affect on the neighborhood,” Reginald Marsh said. “The letter stated that, in part, the lounge would contribute to public urination, loud car noises and a high probability of gun violence.”

After a years-worth of battling the protest of its license, M Lounge— the ‘M’ paying homage to MaryAnn— opened in January of 2006 on the 1500 block of South Wabash Avenue and featured live jazz music on Tuesdays only.

“I love the M Lounge,” said Michele Minale-Monarrez of who rents space in Styling Studio, located at 1518 S. Wabash Avenue. “When I’m leaving the salon, I can hear live music from time to time and it invites you in. They are great neighbors!”

Since then, the lounge has added Wednesday and Thursday to the live music roster, making room to host musical guests such as Ghalib Ghallab, Tracye Eileen and Delivery Point.

“Some [artists] have outgrown us,” said Trilion, a bartender at M Lounge, who legally only uses one name, and one of three individuals that have been working for the bar since it opened. “One of our performers has his own Pandora station, so it’s kind of cool to see those individuals grow as artists and listening to their progression.”

Although the contemporary jazz, smooth jazz and jazz fusion live performances prove to be the driving force in what composes the individuality of the establishment, the character of the space and the owners’ passion equally resonate with M Lounge customers.

Sam Fullerton & The Somebody Band preform at M Lounge, bringing live music into the South Loop community. Photo Credit: Bianca Smith

“In every community, food, music and entertainment is very important,” said Don Taylor, director of security for the Merchandise Mart and a South Loop resident who frequents the lounge.

Since stopping by the first day the lounge opened, Taylor has been regularly enjoying the live music and “vibe” for almost nine years.

“After a hard day at work, to be able to come in, have a cocktail and listen to some nice, mellow jazz is very exciting,” Taylor said.

Tashula Gauthier, director of operations for a financial services company, Evanston resident and customer of M Lounge going on nine years, has built many memories around the establishment; her wedding reception, New Years Eve parties and weekly girls’ nights at the lounge contribute to her loyalty.

“My husband and I kept coming back all the time because of Reggie and MaryAnn,” Gauthier said. “They make everyone feel special, important and part of the M Lounge family.”

In two weeks, Sundays at the lounge will expand to incorporate live music, DJs, wine tastings, whiskey experiences and movie nights.

Despite such growth, M Lounge remains modest and deeply rooted in it’s original mission: providing the community with a place to unwind and celebrate music.

“I love the fact that we have a very loyal clientele and there are customers who have been coming since the lounge opened,” Reginald Marsh said. “I think it’s very unique to the bar industry, which is a very transient business. To have employees, customers who have been here for almost nine years — we’re a family.”

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