The table saws were buzzing in the West Loop as workers scurried inside Proxi, the new more-casual restaurant from the owners of Sepia. Chef Andrew Zimmerman and co-owner Emmanuel Nony today announced they’re targeting the second week of June to open their second restaurant at 565 W. Randolph St., just 20 feet from their first.
The beverage program will be one of the big differences that sets the two restaurants apart. While Sepia is known for its extensive wine list, Proxi will concentrate on cocktails and beer. Proxi’s menu is to feature street food from around the world, inspired by travels to Asia and Europe. The drinks will complement those global influences with beer from countries like Japan, India, and Mexico. They won’t concentrate on local beer, though the window has been left open for collaborations with Chicago breweries using exotic ingredients. The beverage program will focus on fun, Nony said. They’re going to use less-familiar ingredients in bold ways, said GM Petros Papatheofanis. During a Monday media walkthrough, staff served a spicy tequila drink garnished with a pineapple wedge.
But wine drinkers shouldn’t avoid the place. “We will have a very condensed wine list, it will be a little shorter and more concise,” Zimmerman explained.
Nony explained how Zimmerman’s concept brought him back to his times in Indonesia and Bali, where he spent time at backyard parties as hosts grilled fish that was previously held in tanks that guests could see. Zimmerman’s been waiting eight years to showcase more than Sepia will allow. It cost too much to retrofit Sepia with the proper ventilation for a wood-burning stove, so they relied on gas. But Proxi’s kitchen offers opportunity. Its kitchen’s wood-burning grill and the Josper—a coal-burning oven from Spain—will help build different flavors. Zimmerman also talked about how he prefers an open kitchen instead of being trapped where he can’t see the dining room. He wants that connection with diners.
Werner Printing is still located upstairs, and folks downstairs at Proxi can still hear the publishing press from time to time. Werner closes up at 3 p.m., which is good because Proxi will initially only offer dinner. Lunch and weekend brunch could be added depending on neighborhood demand, Nony said.
An oval-shaped marble bar which should have 12 seats highlights the lounge area on the Jefferson side of the restaurant. The full menu will be available at the bar to keep the experiences consistent. The windows will swing out to the street where there will be sidewalk seating.
The seats by the Randolph Street windows will be private and romantic, Nony said. Meanwhile there will be curtains near the lounge space to provide further separation. Proxi’s private event space has room for 14, and Zimmerman said it will eventually be decorated with a wine display. Zimmerman’s wife is working on the music playlist to take advantage of a new sound system. Expect an eclectic selection of global beats to set the mood.
Zimmerman and Nony should have much more to share in the coming weeks. The restaurant will host a private event on Monday to celebrate the James Beard Awards.