Less than a year ago, the Boka Restaurant Group opened the restaurant—the sprawling, intricate Momotaro—that they hoped would become their crown jewel. Now, construction is winding down on their even more sprawling project that they say is larger, that's taking longer to open, and is two times more expensive than any restaurant they've ever built.
Welcome to Swift and Sons (formerly Armour & Swift), the Boka and Bristol steakhouse collaboration in the Google Building that's been in the works for well over two years. It finally opens sometime in October.
On a recent walkthrough, Boka partners Rob Katz and Kevin Boehm burst with pride and excitement like giddy schoolboys. They point out intricate details such as the soundproofing in the ceiling ("the litmus test is when you're sitting at a 10-top you should be able to hear the person who's on the other end of the table and you should be able to recognize the song that's playing at the same time," Boehm says), the abundance of bathrooms, the massive kitchen that's "bigger than our first restaurant" that includes "walk-in heaven" for the many cuts of meat, the lobby area that will house a concierge, the bi-level bar that spans the front "tavern area" and elevated dining rooms. The framing is in place but the design details (millwork, brass poles, murals, light fixtures) are not quite there yet. Furniture is set to arrive any day.
"We've been doing this for a quarter-century and there's been a lot of heavy lifting in this one," Katz says. "This is the biggest restaurant we've ever done and I think it's going to be one of the most rewarding things we've ever built. The detail in this restaurant is substantial."
The second Chicago restaurant designed by NY-based AvroKo (Momotaro), the design inspiration is creating meatpacking pioneer Gustavus Swift's fictitious present-day office with turn-of-the-century design, whom the restaurant is named for. "We're not trying to design this restaurant off anything we've ever seen in our lives," Katz says. AvroKo took the space, the more-than-century-old former cold storage meatpacking facility, from a "concrete box" to the current state in the photos above.
When open, patrons will enter a lobby vestibule area, adorned with the Swift sign and the concierge, through revolving doors on the corner of Fulton and Morgan Streets. Through the next door lies the tavern room with the first floor of the bi-level bar, inspired by "what (Katz and Boehm) think a turn-of-the-century trading floor would have looked like." Walk up a few steps to the second level of the bar, on the outlier of two dining rooms under columned majestic arched ceilings left from the cold storage meatpacking facility. Then there's large private dining rooms with separate entrances, separate bars, and private patios.
Saying it'll be the only steakhouse in the West Loop, Katz and Boehm say they are trying to be as creative as they can yet stay true to the steakhouse concept, perhaps the style of restaurant that's more cookie-cutter than any other. But how?
"In today's marketplace, to stand apart, the design has to be exceptional," Katz says. "The service and hospitality have to be exceptional. The menu has to be different. This is the environment that we're in now. To put it all together is hopefully what will set us apart from everyone else."
See for yourself if the finished product stands apart next month.