In a couple weeks, Randolph Street’s Restaurant Row will get a lot of rum and food by one of Chicago’s most acclaimed Latin-focused chefs. Ronero, the brainchild of the local hospitality vet Nils Westlind who spent more than a decade of his formative years in Colombia, is finally close to opening at 738 W. Randolph St. after an initial report nearly a year ago. He has snagged chef Corey Morris (Mercat a la Planxa, Rural Society) to mastermind the food, and is readying a second floor speakeasy cocktail lounge that will focus on tableside mixology. Its target opening is now early November, with the lounge opening before the first-floor restaurant.
Westlind says that his combination of restaurant and lounge will encompass "the best of all over (South America)" rather than most other Latin concepts in Chicago, which he feels focus on a specific region. "I wanted to do this combination of a destination experience in order to embody my whole childhood, the way I grew up," he says.
The speakeasy lounge will also help set it apart from its West Loop competitors. Patrons will enter it via a floor-to-ceiling wall made from rum barrels, one of which you’ll push to unlock a secret door, Westlind says. Once upstairs, expect mixologists to mix large-format cocktails at your reservation-only table and pour them in mismatched 1920s-era vintage glassware, as well as live Latin music and a dance floor, and two bars for walk-ins.
Beverage director Allie Kim (Girl & the Goat) is planning both classic (mojito, daiquiri, etc) and lesser-known Latin cocktails using fresh tropical juices. Also expect high balls (Cuba Libre and Fernet y Cola), original seasonal cocktails, hot Latin cocktails in the winter, drams, South American wine and beer, and pisco and cachaca liquors. And, of course, a "thoughtfully curated" rum selection.
Meanwhile, chef Corey Morris, who helmed celebrity chef Jose Garces’ South Loop Spanish stalwart Mercat a la Planxa for years before opening his wood-fired concept Rural Society in Streeterville, gives the project serious culinary chops. Expect a seasonal menu focusing on traditional and iconic Latin American dishes downstairs with modern updates, Morris says, with the opening menu inspired by Argentina, Peru, Costa Rica, Cuba, and Brazil. Dishes he highlight include Matambre (Argentinian cured beef, chimichurri emulsion, heirloom carrot, egg); Columbian fried whole snapper with coconut-cola rice and crispy plantains; and Peruvian pork shoulder cooked in banana leaf with aji pancha (Peruvian red pepper), rice, and black beans. Also expect interesting Latin bar food upstairs until late night — they’re talking about a trio of Latin-themed hot dogs as well as a Cubano sandwich.
Westlind describes the two-floor space as "glamorous" with a 1920s art deco design, including polished gold chandeliers, white marble bartops, and two skylights upstairs. The speakeasy will also have a separate entrance, and each floor seats 100 people.
"I’ve been dreaming of this project for three to four years now, and now it’s finally here and it’s kind of surreal," Westlind says. The Latin cocktail and gourmet glamour should get underway in less than a month.