Does the M stand for matrimony?
By Raymond Ward
As South Loop Jazz Club celebrates its 13th anniversary, its live performances in a sophisticated atmosphere has been the perfect meeting spot for some singles
Tarniece Miller has always dug the vibe at M Lounge, the South Loop jazz club now celebrating its 13th anniversary.
It’s never been your typical club scene. No overly aggressive suitors. It’s a spot where you can slink into a sofa and grab a cocktail and some conversation.
However, she’s picked up so much more than crafted drinks and complimentary live music from the South Loop martini lounge. It’s where she and another regular named Jon struck up a conversation, exchanged numbers in June 2008, went out together a week later, then tied the knot in February 2010.
“I think the universe was perfectly aligned for me to meet him,” said Miller.
It’s not an uncommon story heard at M Lounge— some call it community — since its January 2006 opening. More than a dozen such unions have been fostered in the living room-type setting at 1520 S. Wabash.
That legacy of love and life connections is a particular point of pride for husband-and-wife team MaryAnn and Reginald Marsh, its African-American owners who have built both a successful business franchise and a successful marriage of nearly 20 years.
“You would not think that you would meet the love of your life at a bar; but M Lounge has created an atmosphere where a lot of single women feel safe and comfortable coming in,” MaryAnn Marsh said.
“The sort of comfortable atmosphere lends itself to meeting people,” she said, noting it was voted as best pace for a first date on Yelp.
Reginald, a former television news producer and government relations professional, had long wanted to open such a bar. MaryAnn, a real estate broker, was 100-percent behind the dream, he said.
They figured the South Loop, with its scarcity of nightlife was prime for the venture.
“We wanted a space that was nice and comfortable for people and kind of reminded you of a living room,” Reginald Marsh said. “Because of that, we still have regulars who always feel at home.”
The intimate martini lounge has over the years become synonymous with hot, live jazz; cool, innovative cocktails; warm customer service; and a client base as immensely loyal as the “Cheers” bar of old. It has been the Chicago home base of such renowned jazz greats as the late pianist/composer Ghalib Ghallab, and saxophonist Ray Silkman.
About 1,800 patrons come through the doors monthly, who might find themselves doing some celebrity sighting. Angela Bassett; Andre Royo, Jussie Smollett and other “Empire” cast members; and players from the Chicago Bears and Chicago Sky have been on the scene.
Area client “regulars” are so loyal that quite unintentionally, the South Loop oasis has spawned a sub-community of couples who have met their match at M Lounge — some married with children. Its owners consider it a badge of honor to have been responsible for over a dozen weddings — couples who have become family, and will always consider M Lounge their Cupid’s lair.
In fact, their attendance has been demanded at several of these weddings, or at those couples’ personal celebrations; the christening of the Millers’ son, for example.
Jon Miller, an educator who lived doors away from M Lounge, had been going to the bar a few nights a week when he and Tarniece, a marketing and advertising professional, met. Jon playfully calls himself as the “Norm” of this neighborhood “Cheers”- esque spot. Tarniece, was there, usually with girlfriends, every two weeks.
“It was Black-owned. It was a smaller environment. The clientele seemed to be young, Black professionals. Those were the things that, when my girlfriends and I went out, we gravitated to,” she said. “It’s just the ambiance.”
As other club venues have come and gone over the course of these 13 years, M Lounge has remained — through South Loop gentrification, recession and a recent surge of new taverns and restaurants — a beacon for Chicagoans seeking music, mixing and mingling, amidst warmth and hospitality. Staffers know customers by name and drink.
“It’s the intimacy of the lounge and the quality of people that we attract — people of like mind; people on the mature side — that make us successful,” Reginald Marsh said.
Employees there are even comfortable vouching for regulars.
“When you meet someone there, it’s sort of like meeting a friend of a friend. A customer can ask ‘What do you know about that guy?’ I’m able to say, ‘He’s a good guy,’ because I’ve been seeing him in the bar and talking to him. We get to know our customers,’ MaryAnn Marsh said
“It’s kind of like being at a cocktail party with a bunch of friends.”