Polish Nights

Kids are always looking to the weekend to have a good time. That holds true on the South Side of Chicago as it holds true halfway across the world in Poland. Yet while the law restricts under-agers from having too good of time in the States, Poland allows a bit more leniency. A typical night begins with a stop at a bar for a honey beer, then ambles from club to club until you’re danced out. But no night is complete without the wait in line to order a zapiekanka.

Made by toasting a piece of French bread topped with an assortment of mushrooms, green onions, ham, and more, this traditional snack of Polish night owls goes sinfully well with a side of ketchup. Growing up, I have many fond memories of summer nights out with my cousins in Poland. Here in the States, I’ve long craved the zapiekanka that could take me back to those nights in Krakow.

The standard was set (unfairly) high when I walked into Cafe Two07, a late night bar and club with the reputation for serving up some of the best zapiekanki in Chicago. Yet the zapiekanki were just as I’d remembered: crisp, soft, and cheesy. The Polish appetizer menu — including potato pancakes, pierogi, and cabbage rolls — brought back memories of Poland and I soon learned that the nightlife was equally authentic. Located on the 58th block of South Archer in the Polish-Mexican neighborhood of Garfield Ridge, Cafe Two07 is far away from the chic club scene downtown–but only in terms of mileage.

“I’m a nocturnal creature myself,” explains owner and in-house DJ Ralph Pleszko. On most nights Pleszko (stage name Digital Driver), a tall blond vested in Aeropostale, can be found firmly planted in the DJ booth. There, he sifts through his vinyl, spinning German-imported classics such as “99 Luftballons” and “Celebration” as well as the latest in popular house music. Pleszko attributes his passion for music to the opportunities opened up by his move from Poland to Chicago in 1988. Fittingly, he named the place after his inbound flight number, #2007.

Pleszko is invested in giving the South Side youth a place that they can call their own, a place that’s “low key that isn’t in your face.” The tables and sofas are arranged casually in the lounge around the dance floor, and there is a private room in the back.  You can pick your playlist and throw a private party provided you cover the bar tab afterwards. The rest — the friendly staff, the dancing, the little slice of Poland’s nightlife — is all free.

When the music gets going the dance floor gets crowded.  “Some nights are so epic here,” Pleszko says. But you have to know when to go. The most crowded nights at Cafe Two07 are Wednesdays and the second and fourth Fridays of every month, when Plezko brings in DJs from around the country. One of these groups, Soul Kitchen, flies in every other Friday from Vegas to mix for a packed house of fans. During their set, I ran into one frequent Friday-goer, Marcin,: “their music makes me loosen up and free myself from the everyday world.”

Which is exactly what Pleszko wants. “My goal is to give people a universe they can define as their own,” he says. “The freedom to feel human.”

Cafe Two07, 5842 S Archer Ave. (773) 767-5740. Free. cafetwo07.com

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