Many of the nation's top food and drink luminaries descended on the Lyric Opera House in the Loop last night for Chicago's first time hosting the James Beard Awards, the top honors for restaurants and chefs in the country. Chicago's finest restaurants and bars pulled out all the stops, first on the red carpet and at the awards themselves where many of the presenters were Chicagoans, and then hosting a variety of afterparties until daybreak around the city.
When the awards ended, the floodgates opened to a jam-packed walkaround gala tasting spanning two floors of the Lyric. Then it was off to the party circuit or elsewhere, where the top destinations were Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, Girl & the Goat, The Aviary, Billy Sunday, La Sirena Clandestina, Ramen-san and Big Star. Here are the highlights.
- David Chang (Momofuku) and Wylie Dufresne (WD~50) were two of the first to leave the ceremony, as they hopped into a black SUV and headed to Avec. Sean Brock (Husk), who like many was shaken by the sudden passing of one of the country's top food writers Josh Ozersky, met them there.
- Over at Frontera, Rick Bayless unleashed a barrage of carnival-esque entertainment on attendees, such as a woman pouring mezcal from a steampunk robotic arm and another serving guacamole and other snacks from table inside her dress.
- Bayless himself showed off his moves on the dancefloor and Beverly Kim and John Clark celebrated with a large Korean entourage.
- Girl & the Goat was a top destination on Randolph Street, serving Shake Shake concretes, a variety of exceptional snacks including foie gras bratwurst, vodka from a bull-shaped ice luge, and libations from goat-branded red plastic cups.
- Andrew Zimmern, Doug Sohn, and CJ Jacobsen were among the many high-profile attendees at The Goat and the DJ announced Boka chef Lee Wolen's birthday, which was on the same day.
- Serving drinks from red plastic solo cups was a trend of the evening, as over at The Aviary the host greeted attendees with "welcome to The Aviary's kegger" and the bar used their own Aviary-branded cups.
- Nick Kokonas and crew set up sidewalk tents outside Aviary and Next, had Chubby Weiner and Windy City Ice Cream trucks parked outside, and served Pequod's pizza in the kitchen.
- Daniel Boulud and his entourage were camped out a private booth downstairs at The Office until the wee hours.
- Across the street at La Sirena Clandestina, two of Miami's finest cocktailers, Elad Zvi and Gabriel Orta of The Broken Shaker, gave Chicagoans a taste of what's to come with cocktails from their Miami Beach hotspot.
- Matthias Merges' team poured Krugs of bubbly and Fernet at the Billy Sunday party, apropos for the refined Logan Square cocktail bar.
- As expected, Big Star was an industry party hotspot. Boulud was there munching on tacos:
- And Cleveland chef Jonathon Sawyer, who beat out Curtis Duffy, Paul Virant, Andrew Zimmerman and Erling Wu-Bower for the Best Chef: Great Lakes award, celebrated his victory at Big Star amongst a mob of partygoers.