A Thai band plays soulful music, while young Thai-Americans and their friends drink beers and munch on fried duck cheeks or plump Thai sausages.
This is definitely not a Thai restaurant, but at the Fireside in Edgewater, the mood begins to change around midnight on the weekends. That's when they open up their dining room and turn it into a Thai pop-up, thanks to Aom Fletcher, one of the managers at the restaurant who realized her fellow Thai ex-pat community needed a place to hang after getting off work.
"They're always looking for a place to go, to enjoy themselves after work," Fletcher said. "A lot of my friends said 'Hey, you have a place we can hang out after hours, can we do something on the other side?' and I said, 'Sure, why not.'"
EXTRA COURSE: Fireside's frozen cocktail made with curry
So in addition to serving the usual items from the menu, like ribs, roast chicken and fish, she and her friends also whip up Thai comfort food.
"We have the Thai papaya salad, Thai sausage, Thai ribs, Hoi Tod -- which is like a street food that is really rare to serve in any Thai restaurant anywhere in America," she said.
It's a Thai omelet made with mussels and eggs, served with crunchy bean sprouts. There is plenty of crunch on this menu, including the aforementioned fried duck cheek, which goes great with a fiery dipping sauce. But it's Fletcher's crunchy, roughly-grated green papaya salads that seem to draw the most attention. She offers at least three versions, each with the requisite amount of bright acidity from fresh lime, plus salty fish sauce and plenty of garlic and radiant Thai chilies.
"Our papaya salads are really well-known in the Thai community in Chicago," Fletcher said.
The special Thai menu here on this side of Fireside happens every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It starts at about 11 p.m. and goes until about 3 a.m.
Thai-only menu after 11:30 pm Friday - Sunday
5739 N. Ravenswood Ave.