The old Orange space on Grand is practically unrecognizable now, as Billy Lawless' team has transformed it into The Dawson. Buildout is almost complete, as cosmetic touches like furniture and light fixtures are practically the only reveals left.
General manager Clint Rogers terms the concept a "drinking-focused restaurant" and the layout, beverage and food programs reflect that. Inside, two large bars anchor both floors of the large double-decker open space. Each floor also houses dining areas.
Every cocktail mixed here is meant to pair with a menu item, including monthly-changing low-alcohol cobblers. The "Virgo Cobbler" will hit the menu first—made with the Italian apertif Byrrh, raspberries, lemon juice, simple syrup, sherry, and crushed ice—and is paired with a daily meat and cheese board.
Another example of the intended menu pairings is the vodka-based "Safe Word" (Reyka, St. Germain, clarified apple, cinnamon syrup, lemon, Angostura bitters) which goes with either the roast chicken (braised endive, glazed apples, ricotta gnocchi, Madeira wine sauce) or the wood-grilled whole fish (som tom salad, citrus).
While most of the food program is still under wraps, besides the reported chicken-fried rib eye, one other dish has come to light: chef Rene DeLeon's "Pigs in a Blanket" (Chinese sausage wrapped in a bao with mustard sauce). The menu itself will be printed daily—no specials—some items will stay for months and others will change daily.
Beer selections will be all draft, running the gamut from Miller High Life to craft IPAs. They're rolling out monthly collaboration beers based on classic cocktails, the first a Negroni-based orange-and-tea-infused Belgian aged in Journeyman Distillery gin barrels with Greenbush Brewery.
Bar manager Anna Marie Sagoy (Big Star, The Charleston) will prepare off-menu Jello shots. Nightly-made infused cocktails, soaked with botanicals and fresh fruit, will also be available as off-menu shots.
While the space is still awaiting finishing touches, the style is evident. Based on the Dawson Brothers, who owned a historic Nineteenth century manufacturing plant up the street at 517 N Halsted (now Iguana Cafe), the space is designed to look like a Nineteenth century men's hangout with modern twists like USB ports at the bar. Painted brick peeks through plaster on the walls, decorated with Native American and animal prints.
The upstairs and downstairs carry a "night and day" feel, connected by a long angled metal staircase on the west side clearly visible to the street through floor-to-ceiling windows as well as a guest elevator. A notable piece upstairs is the "Devil's Den," a back room with denim-covered walls and a fireplace that can be used for private events.
The only kitchen is downstairs in the rear, separated from the bar by a long standing rail, featuring a 13-seat kitchen counter where a tasting menu will be available in the future.
Like a Nineteenth century fort, the whole 230-seat space (375 in patio season) is accessible via oversize wooden double doors on the front side. Those doors will open to the public in early October.
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