Wicker Park’s central architectural jewel — the 12-floor near-century-old art-deco Northwest Tower at the Milwaukee/North/Damen intersection and the neighboring 1906-era Hollander Fireproof Warehouse — is finally days away from being reborn as boutique hotels The Robey and The Hollander. Much of the hotel and building itself has previously been reported — except the details on the restaurants, bars and rooftops. Today’s the day that mystery ends, and chances are that disappointment won’t follow.
In advance of the first restaurant’s target opening on Nov. 16 or 17 — followed incrementally by the opening of the other spaces — executive chef Bradley Stellings, a NYC culinary vet who worked under Alain Ducasse and others, and food and beverage director Sergio Campos (NoMI and the Park Hyatt) gave Eater a private tour of all the under-construction spaces and concepts. "It's a huge responsibility for us to really make sure that it's right for this neighborhood, because you don't see this everywhere," Campos says.
Here’s a rundown, an under-construction photo tour, and renderings of what the five dining and drinking components will look like when they're finished.
The Northwest Tower on the corner of the neighborhood, one of the tallest buildings outside of downtown, has been transformed into the main 12-floor hotel. These three food and beverage concepts will open very soon.
The hotel’s main restaurant will be the first space to open to the public. Beyond the main entrance on the corner of Milwaukee and Damen avenues, Cafe Robey is an elevated French-American bistro that will serve all three meals. Stellings will cook "approachable, beautiful, rich" French bistro food "with a little more flair" from a completely open kitchen, including steak frites, duck confit, house-made pastas, a raw bar, and more. Coffee drinks — Metric Coffee is their roaster of choice — and alcohol will also be available here.
The triangular v-shaped brand-new space seats 55, with bar and counter seating on one side and dining tables on the other. Like much of the hotel, its art deco design harkens back to the original building — "American sensibilities from the 1920s and 30s," Campos says. The space is flooded with light and has two rear entrances, one from the street and the other from the hotel, in addition to its front entrance.
The Robey’s second-floor lounge
Above Cafe Robey lies a comfortable second-floor lounge with design that leans more towards the 50s and 60s than the restaurant below. Blue couches line a space that will also be open all day and evening, and serve as a chill space to relax with coffee, wine, grab-and-go food, your laptop, and company.
The v-shaped space will offer an "extensive" wine program in the evening, but what Campos is really excited about is a spritz cocktail menu. Expect an amaro spritz, Campari spritz, cider spritzes in the winter, and more in addition to the traditional Aperol spritz.
Up & Up rooftop lounge
The most breathtaking area of the hotel resides at the 12th-floor rooftop Up & Up. Picturesque aerial city views the likes of which are rarely seen outside downtown frame an indoor/outdoor space. Outdoor seating-lined ledges flank Up & Up and lead to a small room inside the flag-carrying dome at the point of the building.
Inside the 30-seat central indoor enclosement, 50s and 60s-era seating and decorations sit in front of a main bar that will serve an extensive seasonally-rotating cocktail menu as well as beer and wine, but limited-to-no-food. In anticipation of chilly weather at opening, Campos says his team is working on a Hot Toddy menu as well as a hot chocolate with chartreuse marshmallows.
Although the website and an initial press release says the rooftop will only be open to hotel guests, Campos says the general public will able to access it via very limited walk-ins and book parties of six of more people. "We felt that a space like this shouldn’t just be accessible to guests — it should be accessible to members of this community," he says. "Everything that we do with beverage, with the food programs, we decided to make sure it’s right for this community. We’re really trying to pay tribute to Wicker Park/Bucktown and make sure we do this right for them." Expect this major hotspot to be open to the public roughly from 6 p.m. until 2 a.m. daily.
Next door on Milwaukee Avenue, The Hollander is an adjoined but more casual hotel that’s half the height of The Robey and in the vein of the Freehand, meaning more affordable communal rooms will available. Two food and beverage concepts will open here.
The Hollander Grab N Go
The ground floor of The Hollander will house this unique coffee bar/snack bar/bike repair shop/casual drinking spot combination. The bike shop will sit on one side in the rear and the coffee bar on the other, with casual table and couch seating in front. Bike tuneup and parts prices will appear on the same menu as the coffees. Decor will include photographs sourced from the family of Mr. Hollander from when the 1905-era building was a storage warehouse where horses would come in through one end and out the other.
In addition to coffee, pastries and Warm Belly cookies will be available during the day. But chef Stellings’ team will also serve hot dogs here — a Chicago dog, a "Hollander dog" (he won’t reveal what’s on it yet), a condiment dog (whatever you like), a naked (plain) dog, and eventually staff will come up with their own hot dogs and put them on the menu, "we’ll play around with it and have fun with it," he says. But that’s not all — the space will also serve an extensive beer list, bottled classic high-proof cocktails, and a shot-and-beer program. Expect local craft brews, cheap beer such as PBR and High Life, Manhattans and Negronis in bottles, and boilermaker combos such as a saison paired with chartreuse luxardo mixed with crème Earl Gray as well as more traditional boilermakers.
And finally, a second indoor/outdoor rooftop space sits above The Hollander — one with a pool. The Cabana Club houses two bars, a triangular wading and dipping pool (it’s 4-feet deep) surrounded by beach chairs, and more ledges with more seating to soak in sun and stunning views.
But you’ll have to wait longer to visit the Cabana Club — it’s not slated to open until spring 2017. You’ll also have to wait for more info on what they’ll serve here, as the hotel prefers to keep it a secret for now. More to come down the line.