The Jen Justice Band
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The Jen Justice Band

Chicago, Illinois, United States

Chicago, Illinois, United States
Band Rock Pop


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"HP lounge and restaurant creates new 'vibe' on the North Shore"

HP lounge and restaurant creates new 'vibe' on the North Shore
Nona Willis Aronowitz/ staff reporter 01/08/10 11:45 AM 1135 hits

"I'm like the Chelsea Handler of the North Shore," said Lisa Norcia, the owner and mastermind behind Vibe, the new bar-restaurant-venue in Highland Park. "I like to be a little inappropriate. And I bring that personality to my restaurant."

Her personality, in fact, is apparent from the sign on the front door, which proclaims, "The bar closes when Lisa says so." Norcia, a longtime North Shore native, found herself opening the lounge's doors several months ago with no bar or restaurant experience under her belt. Laid off from her hedge fund job with kids to take care of, Norcia decided to take matters into her own hands.

"I went up to the mayor and said, 'I want to make my own job,'" she said. "We opened in 90 days."

Norcia cold-called recent graduates from Chicago's chef school Kendall College, and sought out chefs who knew how to cook the items Norcia wanted on her menu. She said although she knew it was a risk in this shaky economy, certain factors were in her favor.

"Highland Park was very motivated to help new business owners and support the local economy," she said. "Plus, contractors were more available. I was able to negotiate with the landlord, with the food and alcohol suppliers."

Vibe has a sexy, loungy feel, adorned with orange couches, paintings by local artists and mismatched furniture, some of which Norcia said came from her own house.

"I wanted the place to feel like my livingroom," Norcia said. "At first, I even wanted to name the bar 'Lisa's Livingroom,' but friends told me it sounded too much like a furniture store."

Since last summer, Vibe has gained a modest local following as a bar and a lounge. But lately, Norcia is on a mission to make sure people know about the food, too.

"People don't always know we even serve food," she said. "But frankly, the menu is the best part of this place."

Vibe features an extensive list of appetizers and finger foods, which fuses ethnic cuisine like seared tuna in a soy vinaigrette with Midwestern comfort food like savory meatloaf sliders and crab artichoke dip (Lisa's personal favorite). The menu boasts three kinds of bistro-quality shoestring fries, including pepper and truffle flavors, and a handful of creative pizza-like flatbreads.

The drink menu is enticing as well, featuring more than a dozen innovative cocktails with tongue-in-cheek names, such as the "Recessionista's Retreat," a martini made of acai liquer, fresh mint, cucumber and lime. The Vibe-i-tini, served straight up with cucumber vodka, St. Germain liquer and grapefruit juice, is delicious and more than strong enough for its $9 price tag. The Bloody Mary is also good, coming with a large shrimp on the edge of the glass.

Although Vibe clearly takes a cue from Chicago's current small-plate-and-cocktails obsession, Norcia insists this is a misnomer.

"People think that because the food here is appetizer-y, you can't get a meal out of it," she said. "The portions are pretty hefty."

Recently, Vibe has been hosting local bands two to three days per week, such as the Jen Justice Band and the Robbie Gold Band, both from Chicago.

"I didn't even plan on that," Norcia said of the live music feature. "But I had so much interest, so I started doing it."

So far, Vibe still runs as a result of what Norcia calls her "one-woman show." On any given night, she can be found shuffling from the bar to the kitchen to checking on tables, presiding over the whole room without a moment to breathe.

"I like to have fun and I'm not pretentious," she said. "I'm straightforward-what you see is what you get. And honestly, I think people like that. I think that's why they come back."

Vibe is located at 1935 Sheridan Rd., Highland Park. For hours and more information, go to or call 847-780-4815.

--by Nona Willis Aronowitz, reporter

- Chicago Tribune Local




EP, Shades of Grey. Release date TBD



The Jen Justice Band [The JJB] was formed in the city Of Chicago in the spring of 2004. The band came together as a result of a chance meeting between Ray McKenzie, the band's guitarist and Jennifer Jucovics at a Starbucks across from the CME where Ray and Jen worked. Jen had been singing in cafes around Chicago and Ray was looking for a lead singer for a band he was putting together with his childhood best friend, Drummer Dean Cassara. Ray and Dean had reunited and decided to put together a new band, having been members of the fusion band Forest. Together Ray, Dean and Jen formed the nucleus of The JJB and have been entertaining audiences in the Chicago metropolitan area ever since.