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Chit Chat: Club Arcada celebrates entertainment past, present

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Ron Onesti, CEO and president of Onesti Entertainment, poses with Gemma Martin (left) of Joliet and Marisa Polendo of St. Charles (right) in the newly opened Club Arcada speakeasy and entertainment showroom on the third floor of the historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles.[]

ST. CHARLES – With its playful visual punch, the new Club Arcada ups the entertainment ante in St. Charles. It perches above the main theater where audiences see their idols from across the decades.

In speaking with reporter Renee Tomell, Ron Onesti, president and CEO of Onesti Entertainment, said the third-floor club with its professional dance floor caters to New York jazz club style entertainment. Upcoming shows will feature Tony Bennett’s daughter, Antonia Bennett, who opens for him when he tours, plus Jack Lemmon’s son, Chris, in a retrospective of his father’s life, as well as Motown and jazz a la Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday.

“Lee Rocker, a member of the Stray Cats, is doing rockabilly shows,” Onesti said, adding that blues performances each Tuesday will kick off soon.

The space, which is dubbed a speakeasy and showroom, is accessed through a secret door in the entry’s library. Broadway stars and comedy are part of the mix, and back in action is the Arcada grand piano once played by such greats as Duke Ellington. The original Club Arcada opened on the second floor during the 1930s as Prohibition came to an end.

To set the lively scene of his new club, Onesti commissioned artists to create murals populated by some of his favorite Hollywood legends from Jeanne Harlow to Charlie Chaplin, who each have special rooms dedicated to them. Local artist Joe Gagnepain painted the “The Great Gatsby” themed mural in a semi-private space off the Fred & Ginger main showroom, where Russian artist Vitali’s mural mingles St. Charles landmarks and Cotton Club-era celebrities. People in the know will spot Onesti family members.

The following is an edited version of the rest of their conversation.

Renee Tomell: Where did you get the idea for your Club Arcada?

Ron Onesti: This is something that’s been a dream of mine since I was a young boy watching black-and-white movies … growing up [with] an appreciation for the era of the ‘20s, ‘30s, ‘40s. My dad was a war hero in World War II. As we were approaching the 90th anniversary of the theater [Sept. 6. 2016], I did all the research. I went upstairs and looked past the drop ceiling and the drywall and found [it] was originally a Masonic lodge [with] two rooms – [one fit] one long table where 100 members would eat. But over the years it became offices – walls went up.

Tomell: You tore down walls to reveal the original contours of the historic space?

Onesti: I let my imagination run wild. I’m not a designer, but I had a vision for this particular thing. It took on a life of its own.

Tomell: Did you go on a hunt for period furnishings?

Onesti: I [found] 100-year-old lamps and furniture. The big flag in the Louis Armstrong [bar] … flew outside of City Hall in Chicago during the 1933 World’s Fair. It has only 48 stars.

Tomell: You built a kitchen for Club Arcada. What type of food and drink is offered?

Onesti: We have a small plates menu we’re really proud of … upscale cocktails and great wines. We did dinner before the [midweek] George Thorogood & The Destroyers show downstairs. People loved it.

Tomell: You have some staff in flapper garb. Do patrons ever dress in 1920s style fashion?

Onesti: People are taking it on themselves to dress in period [attire], or tuxes or casual. It all goes together.

Tomell: It sounds like you now enjoy an even wider range of bookings like ‘Bette Davis Ain’t for Sissies,’ a one-woman show?

Onesti: A lot of tremendous acts come across my desk.

If you go

■ What: Club Arcada

■ When: From 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays to 1 a.m. and select other days

■ Where: Arcada Theatre building, 105 E. Main St., St. Charles

■ Info: oshows.com; reservations are recommended at Club Arcada; for full lineup and special VIP experiences, go to clubarcada.com or call 630-962-7000.