SCENE

Byline: ELAINE GLUSAC

KNITTING PRETTY
CHICAGO — Diane Falanga started knitting for herself 10 years ago. As she tells it, some of her interest in developing her talent was sparked one day as she walked down a street wearing one of her creations. A woman driving past signaled her to inquire where she’d bought the sweater. The driver was so preoccupied with her inquiry that she hit a sign post.
But it wasn’t until she had a child that Falanga took on designing full-time.
“Friends always ask, ‘Which came first, the concept or the conception?”‘ says Falanga, 32, whose line BLAKE is an acronym for Babies Love Adorable Knit Extras and is also named for her son Blake.
Originally introduced as a line of children’s knit pullovers and pants which wholesaled for $16 to $55, BLAKE recently expanded into women’s wear. The line now includes swing coats, dresses, cardigans and pants ranging from $65 to $120 wholesale. It is represented by The Jacobson Group (13-110) in the Chicago Apparel Center.
The line tends toward the sophisticated, with clean shapes in a muted palette. Falanga’s designs are often decorated with contrasting geometric shapes on the front or with subtly embellished edges. Despite their handmade origins, Falanga says, “They’re not like pieces your grandma made for you.”
To Falanga, motherhood has its creative benefits. A patch pocket on the chest of a sweater came about when Blake had nowhere to put his gummy bears. “Being around [Blake] and his chums is inspirational,” she said.

THE NEXT WAVE
CHICAGO — The increasingly fashionable Randolph Street market area west of the Loop will soon be making way for a new restaurant.
The team behind the local hotspots MarchA and Vivo plans to open a yet-unnamed Asian restaurant in early May, complete with paper umbrellas in the drinks and pan-Asian food on the tables, said Michael Kornick, a partner in the three projects.
The district has long supported wholesale plant and produce distributors, but in recent years has become a magnet for trendy restaurants — among them Vivo, which led the way in 1991. The street’s newest eatery is planned for the site of a former flower shop.
Since then, Marche, Paladino’s and nearby La Borsa have opened, begging the question of whether the Randolph Street district is the next River North, the site of dozens of restaurants, including chains such as Planet Hollywood and the future Spago.
As neighborhoods change, “the first to come in are the restaurants,” Kornick said.
“We felt Randolph, with its proximity to the Loop, had a great feel to it,” said Jerry Kleiner, a partner with Kornick. Kleiner moved into the neighborhood in 1984 — “premature” then, he said, but clearly prescient — and opened the nearby nightclub Shelter in 1991.
The team’s future plans for Randolph include opening an upscale market, a bakery and a coffee shop, services they said are needed to support new residents taking lofts in several large warehouse conversions nearby.
“We expect to be here when the Planet Hollywood types come looking for real estate, when it’s expensive,” said Kornick.
At least one old-timer on the street likes the company. At 83 years old, Paul Alleruzzo has been working on Randolph since his father opened BA Florist in 1945. “The market will continue, but not to the extent that it was before,” said Alleruzzo, who plans on working here for at least another nine years, having just signed a new lease.

TRUE BLUE
CHICAGO — Tuesday nights — dead elsewhere around town — are hopping at The Green Mill Cocktail Lounge.
The Mighty Blue Kings are giving hep cats a good excuse to swill martinis on week nights. The seven-piece jump swing band specializes in the R&B-influenced jazz made popular in the late Forties and early Fifties by musicians such as Louis Jordan.
Capacity crowds jam the former speakeasy in Uptown to hear the band and see its antics. Lead singer Ross Bon likes to croon from atop the bar, chased by saxophone player Sam Burckhardt, who sometimes jumps on his shoulders and rides on his back through the crowd.
“We like to fool around, but we do serious ballads too and mix it up,” says bassist Jim Sutton, who cofounded the Mighty Blue Kings about a year ago with Bon. The band plans to release its first CD, “Meet Me in Uptown” (R-Jay Records, $15), this month at the Aragon Ballroom.
Green Mill owner Dave Jemilo said the Tuesday crowd is split between the 60-somethings who were 20-something when the music was big and today’s 20-something generation. The truly enthused brave the packed dance floor.
“There’s not always room to dance, but they’re dancing sitting in their chairs,” said Jemilo.

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