A little taste of Miami Beach has come to River North, as the Freehand Chicago, the highly-anticipated Miami-imported "hipster hostel" that houses the second locale of the widely-acclaimed cocktail bar The Broken Shaker, has quietly opened in the former Tokyo Hotel on Ohio Street. But don't expect it to be quiet for long if Chicagoans and travelers take to the relaxed vibe and James Beard-nominated beverages like South Floridians have. The full opening happens on June 1.
Those that have visited the Miami original will recognize the communal artsy atmosphere but the Freehand team has replaced the tropical vibe with the feel of a woodsy cabin with Native American touches, while also keeping little nods to the building's history. The Tokyo Hotel sign still hangs outside, for example, but is darkened and overlayed with the Freehand sign.
Inside, the first thing you'll see is the check-in desk on the right and the coffee shop and cafe, Cafe Integral, on the left. There you'll find straightforward coffee drinks from founder Cesar Vega, made with Nicaraguan beans, as well as "Mesoamerican comfort food" (tartines, toasts, salads, stews) at the New York-imported shop that's open from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. for now. Expect later hours and coffee-driven cocktails here soon.
Beyond that, in between Integral and the Shaker, is a dim lobby area where people can relax on couches with food and drink from either spot. Throw rugs, faux furs, pottery, totem poles and fireplaces accent the day and night hangout.
Pass through there and you finally arrive at The Broken Shaker, where expert culinary cocktails and globally-inspired small plates await in a cozy clubhouse-esque back room, covered with 1940s pine tree wallpaper and cartoon octopuses, that may make you temporarily forget you're in River North. Miami cocktail gurus and Broken Shaker partners Elad Zvi and Gabriel Orta collaborated with Chicago bar manager Freddie Sarkis (Celeste) on a 15-cocktail list made up of five of the Miami location's "greatest hits," five "Chicago-inspired" drinks, five "old school boozy" beverages, and a daily cocktail or punch. Many of these are the epitome of culinary cocktails, most notably the "Cocoa Puff Old Fashioned" that's uber popular in Miami, a take on the Chicago classic "Mother-in-Law" (tamale and hot dog) named "The Godmother," and the "Chicago Politics" where flavors eerily reminiscent of Thai Tom Kha soup are served over ice in a large copper pineapple. Most cocktails are $12 and beer and wine is also available. Chef Jonathan Meyer's (Five Star Bar) food menu includes a take on fish and chips (smelt, yucca, cornichons), long strips of charred octopus over a ramp chimichurri of sorts, a snacky take on papas bravas made with chickpeas and hominy, and a burger.
How the tropically-bred concept will translate to Chicago and how a "hipster" vibe will do in River North are two central storylines here, and the Freehand folks believe they've tweaked the concept enough for the Chicago climate and clientele. "It's not about duplicating The Broken Shaker Miami," partner and co-beverage director Elad Zvi says. "It's creating a new story."
That story is already softly underway, and will fully commence on June 1. Take a photo tour above and read through the menus below.