Get Swanky at Chicago’s New Ivy Hall Dispensary

Stylish, lavish, and accessible—founders Nigel Dandridge and David Berger want to dispel preconceived notions around cannabis use.

Ivy Hall Dispensary
Ivy Hall Dispensary | Photo courtesy of Ivy Hall
Ivy Hall Dispensary | Photo courtesy of Ivy Hall

For Nigel Dandridge and David Berger, the journey to opening Ivy Hall has been a long one. The two founders have dreamt of running a dispensary together over the course of their friendship that spans over a decade. The pair, both born and raised in Chicago, want to provide a singular cannabis experience—one that comes through in every velvet-cushioned lounge chair and each blazing, hot pink accent light. Dandridge and Berger’s lavish Ivy Hall, open at last, is as thoughtfully designed as it is dedicated to community support within the Illinois cannabis market.

Realizing their dream didn’t happen overnight, however. After much delay, Dandridge and Berger qualified for and are recipients of an Illinois social equity dispensary license. The entrepreneurs, and many like them, had been waiting for this specific license allocated for businesses that were majority owned by people who’d lived in disenfranchised areas or had past charges for cannabis-related crimes that are no longer illegal. Not everyone agreed.

A series of lawsuits sprung up from businesses arguing the illegitimacy of these specifications that delayed the issuance of any social equity licenses for years. Those lawsuits were settled or struck down and the first of the social equity licensees have opened their doors. Two doors, in fact: Green Rose in River North, and Ivy Hall in Bucktown, adjacent to the artsy Wicker Park neighborhood.

This “sensory dispensary”— words that are literally displayed in large lettering on the exterior of the shop—stimulates all senses indeed. Multihued interiors of mint and emerald welcome you in, while warm lighting dotted with splashes of neon pink perk up the visual intrigue. There are comfy leather and suede couches so chic that you might end up asking where you can find one for your own apartment. Charming gold accents give a luxe vibe without getting pretentious, and there’s a vintage feel to the art deco-styled furnishings and reflective tin ceiling that is reminiscent of the roaring 1920s.

Ivy Hall
Founders Nigel Dandridge and David Berger | Photo courtesy of Ivy Hall

Aesthetics are big here, yes, but so is substantial cannabis education. Once you’ve flashed your ID, you’ll be greeted by a budtender at The Sensory Bar, a counter filled with grab-n-smell jars of common cannabis aromas and terpenes. You can’t smell the actual flower by law, so they recreate the experience by offering scents that relate to strains on the shelves, such as earthly, woody, fruity, or floral notes. Whatever smells good to you can indicate what kind of cannabis will make you feel good. Bottles of essential oils for common terpenes are available to sniff as well, so you can get a sense of the smell of myrcene, limonene, eucalyptol, et cetera to help your selection process.

If you have questions about specific products or trying cannabis for the time—or are just looking for a good cannabis education—budtenders are happy to chat over the phone and talk through all of your concerns. They hope to create “a judgment-free zone” that allows anyone, pro or novice, to feel comfortable shopping for cannabis.

While they set out to create an experiential retail environment with warm approachability, the founders hope that Ivy Hall’s thoughtful interiors can help break down some of the historical perceptions of cannabis as well. Aside from moving past the long-held stigmas of cannabis as a scary—at least lazy and frowned upon—drug, few dispensaries feel all that welcoming when you walk inside. The majority of dispensaries have an interchangeable, clinical vibe of fluorescent lights and high security glass displays. Operating a new kind of cannabis shop in a historical building allows for Dandridge and Berger to address these stereotypes in multiple ways.

“Looking at the tin ceiling at our Bucktown location—original to this building built in 1894—the history and charm are evident. We wanted an environment that embraces the truth while uplifting one’s spirits,” says Dandridge.

When deciding what to call the shop, Dandridge and Berger’s mission was to create a neighborhood boutique that engages all the senses to embrace the entire experience of cannabis.

“A hall is a place we associate with people gathering, whether it’s for meetings, concerts, benefits, meals, or other events—it’s a place where people celebrate, exchange ideas, and history can be made,” Berger shares. “Ivy—a beautiful evergreen perennial—is a subtle nod to the cannabis plant and the overarching beauty of the natural world.”

Although design and approachability are key for Berger and Dandridge, the dup see Ivy Hall as their way to contribute to a thriving Chicago community, whether that’s through sharing their lobby to host a pop-up, helping facilitate a city-wide mural contest, or stocking goods from small businesses like totes and tees from Buy Weed from Women.

“We wanted to avoid the sterile, rigid experiences we’d had when visiting other dispensaries over the years in favor of something more comfortable,” says Dandridge. “Where it’s not about feeling it, it’s about feeling good.”

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Hannah (Izer) Vysoky is a copywriter who specializes in the cannabis industry.