Taco & Turntables: A Friday at Nacional 27, from open to close.
A Friday at Nacional 27
It’s 8:56 AM and Carrie, General Manager of Nacional 27, opens the door to start the craziest day of the week. She turns on the lights, both the overhead version there for purpose and the strewn-over holiday lights that are simply there for the fun. Lunch starts promptly at 11:00AM and there is work to be done.
The kitchen staff trickles in and immediately goes to work. Head Chef Steven begins mixing guacamole and salsa and preparing the hundreds of tortillas made in house they will be serving that day. They’re going to need every last one.
Tallboy Taco is the younger, casual brother of Nacional 27. Only three years old, it sits festively at the store front overlooking Huron Street. There are 20 tables inside, 8 tables outside and a full rectangle shaped bar. Bicycles hang from chains on the ceilings and years and years of guests and employees have inscribed their insignias on the walls.
The doors open at 11AM and the mission is clear: get the hungry business crowd of River North their tacos and chips – fast and fresh. Guests place their orders from the cashier and take a number. Within minutes, their order will arrive. Guests help themselves to water from the bar as well as a salsa cart adorned with eight different types.
The peak of the lunch crowd is at 1PM on the dot as the neighborhood business’ take their breaks and fill up the room on a March afternoon. Tallboy Taco will go through hundreds of tacos during lunch as guests enjoy music playing anything from Maroon 5 to Los Del Rio.
It’s 4:10 PM and some of the lunch crowd has made their way back to their desks. Many have not. Many have stayed to enjoy a margarita, mojito or sangria on the patio. Patrons begin to file in for Happy Hour. During Happy Hour, guests enjoy full-service from one of the friendly Tallboy Taco servers.
At 5PM, the first signs of life in Nacional 27 begin to show, as it is only 30 minutes from opening. Fresh black tablecloths are laid diagonally across the booths and tables and multi colored plates and freshly polished silverware hit the cloth shortly thereafter. Each place setting is provided a clear drinking glass and a folded napkin stacked perfectly over the plate. Mirrors and white cloth adorn the walls and it is all situated around a dance floor that is ready for what is to attack it later in the evening. The valet service sets up out front, eager to transport sleek automobiles to their private, secure parking lot to avoid street parking fees.
Happy Hour is only getting started in Tallboy Taco as the DJ arrives. The west Lounge, closest to Orleans Street and back dropped by a giant mirror and more lights, fills up first. By 5:30PM, there isn’t a free seat in the house. The bartenders are hard at work taking care of their lively patrons at the bar and mixing signature cocktails for all those who chose table service. Over 5,000 mojitos have been conceived behind that bar, and each one was made with tremendous care and specificity.
It’s 5:30PM and the first reservation in Nacional 27 finds a pristine booth to the left of the dance floor. They are greeted with a bowl of delicious mixed Latin nuts and a green bottle of chilled, filtered water from the busboy before being greeted by their server. Enthusiastic servers clad in black from head to toe greet the guests and make them well aware of the evening’s specials. As the room fills up one by one with parties big and small, the music turns louder, the lights turn lower.
The dinner crowd in both Nacional 27 and Tallboy Taco is rolling by 7PM and the kitchen’s intense morning preparation shows the fruits of its labor. In the bar, we have groups ordering rounds of fish and carne asada tacos served on long silver trays family style. Nacional 27 hosts a crowd ordering salmon, ceviche and Argentinian steak and sausage gauchos. While one Tallboy Taco patron dons a Patrick Sharp jersey and a baseball hat, a Nacional 27 patron sports a cocktail dress and heels. In Tallboy Taco there’s a group of young professionals interested in margaritas. In Nacional 27 we have a group of old friends catching up over a bottle of Rioja. All types of evenings are had at 325 Huron.
10pm rolls around and the some guests take the check. A lovely dinner was had and memories made. Exceptional service and exquisite food was the draw and they would be leaving satisfied. However, the night is far from over.
It’s 11PM and the lights go to their dimmest point. Only the festive lights strewn over the bar and strobe lights rotating over the dance floor illuminate the building as a line begins to form outside. It’s Ladies Night and Vida 27 has begun. DJ X, a well-established entertainer who has been pleasing crowds at Nacional 27 for years takes the DJ booth and patrons, both new and existing, hit the dance floor. A fresh and inventive mash of Latin and American music booms loudly through the speakers and the fireworks begin to light up the room. A rather ambitious group has purchased bottle service and they receive the royal treatment. A personalized server, an assortment of mixers and, of course, a bottle of the finest vodkas await them at their booth.
The dance floor remains packed and many of the dinner goers have joined in on the action. It’s colorful, it’s festive and it’s unique to the River North neighborhood. A haven for Latin music and culture awaits all who choose to enter. The bartenders continue to pump out drinks with care as the crowd absorbs the night.
It’s 2AM and time to head home. Everyone had a great night. The doors that opened at 8:56 AM unfortunately need to be closed. Staff will reminisce about what happened here today. They’ll talk about how what started as a quick-service taco restaurant could evolve into a full scale night club over the course of one day.