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NYC Icon PDT’s Founder Partners on First Chicago Project: A Frank Lloyd Wright-Inspired Bar

Prairie School, a partnership with Heisler Hospitality, is slated for a summer opening in the booming Fulton Market

The former Smack Shack space is getting one of Chicago’s most anticipated bars of 2017
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The popup over the James Beard Awards weekend was only the beginning of NYC cocktail icon PDT’s involvement in Chicago. Word comes today that Jim Meehan, the mastermind behind the East Village speakeasy bar/hot dog shop pioneer Please Don’t Tell, is partnering with prolific Chicago bar and restaurant group Heisler Hospitality (Sportsman’s Club, Bad Hunter, Trench) on a new bar in one of the highest-profile hospitality districts in America — Chicago’s booming Fulton Market, according to a news release. And Prairie School, which is slated to open this summer, ups the ante more with its inspiration: Chicago architecture marvel Frank Lloyd Wright, as its name pays homage to Wright’s renowned “prairie style” of architecture.

Meehan and Heisler are taking over the prominent, large, and shuttered space on the northeast corner of 326 N. Morgan St. (aka the Google Building, 1K Fulton, and the Cold Storage Building) that was previously home to seafood restaurant Smack Shack, which closed at February’s end as the Minnesota-based lobster purveyor couldn’t make it work in a massive space on Fulton next door to the Boka Group’s Swift & Sons. Now the 9,000-square-foot restaurant will be split in two: the bar Prairie School and an undisclosed second project. Stay tuned for news on that, as construction is already underway.

Four Corners Tavern Group is not involved in Smack Shack’s replacement, contrary to previous reports, a rep says. Although Sterling Bay — of which Four Corners is a subsidiary — was the developer of the building.

In addition to acclaimed bars, Heisler is also known for standout spaces, and the group’s designer/partner Kevin Heisner is working with another stalwart on Prairie School: Rugo Raff, which is behind all of the Alinea Group spaces. Their mission for this spot is to create a space indicative of Wright’s world-renowned aesthetic. There’s no word yet on drinks, only that the project as a whole intends to “push the envelope on everything from bar design to cocktails to hospitality,” the release states.

Jim Meehan
Doron Gild

Prairie School will become the latest high-profile project to join the Randolph Row and Fulton Market boom, which already includes Girl & the Goat, Au Cheval, Soho House, Momotaro, Roister, Next, The Aviary and countless more; and will include Nobu, the Ace Hotel, a Shake Shack, and much more soon. One thing the Fulton Market strip currently lacks is a dedicated bar in addition to The Betty, however, which leads to this project: Heisler already smartly took advantage of a booming area without many dedicated watering holes when it opened Lone Wolf a few blocks away on Randolph Street in November 2013. Another NYC-imported speakeasy-style cocktail bar, the barber shop/bar/restaurant hybrid Blind Barber, is also slated to open on Fulton soon.

Meehan, who wasn’t available for an interview by press time, grew up in near-suburban Oak Park and River Forest before moving to New York City in 2002 and opening PDT in 2007 — which set the model for many of the neo-speakeasies that have become so popular in recent years around the country — so this project is a homecoming for him. He and Matt Eisler have been discussing a joint project since fall 2016, according to the news release.

That joint project quickly becomes one of Chicago’s most anticipated openings of 2017. More to come.


1000 W Fulton, Chicago, IL 60607 (312) 600-9230

smack shack

326 North Morgan Street, Chicago, IL 60607 (312) 973-1336

Prairie School

326 North Morgan Street, , IL 60607 (312) 763-6564 Visit Website