The arrival of warm temperatures is not far off so prepare to wake from winter hibernation with a hot new crop of restaurants and bars. West Coast-inspired bites from Erling Wu-Bower and cocktails crafted by Julia Momose are among the season’s biggest newcomers and bound to draw lines upon opening. Others, such as Flight Club and Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club, promise to deliver unique gaming experiences to Chicago. As always, delays can and likely will occur but in the meantime, read up and start planning.
Key Players: Julia Momose, Noah and Cara Sandoval
Some of the brightest talents in Chicago’s culinary scene are coming together for what’s slated to be the most high-profile opening of the season. 2016 Eater Young Gun winner Julia Momose, a native of Japan, is teaming with the folks behind two-Michelin-starred Oriole on a Japanese-inspired bar at an undisclosed location in the West Loop. Seating will be limited to just eight guests at a time and the drink list will have 11 to 15 concoctions, as well as spirit-free choices. And similar to other upscale cocktail lounges, bartenders will offer an omakase experience for those who’d prefer to leave it in the hands of the experts. For sustenance, Noah Sandoval is crafting bites that pair well with the alcohol while Cara Sandoval will run front of the house duties.
Location: 151 W. Erie Street
Key Players: Erling Wu-Bower, Joshua Tilden, Paul Kahan, Donnie Madia
After making a name for himself at Nico Osteria, Erling Wu-Bower is stepping away from Italian cooking to undertake a new venture. The restaurant’s original plan changed, as he is no longer working on this project with Cosmo Goss, but he’s formed his own company, Underscore Hospitality, and is working with One Off Hospitality Group to bring hearth-driven flavors to the former Tavernita space in River North. The food will be cooked in two wood-fired hearth ovens in the center of the restaurant and pull inspiration from various culinary influences of the West Coast, including Italian, Middle Eastern, Chinese, and Mexican. And the vibe should be relaxed thanks to ample natural lighting and botanical décor.
Location: 3630 N. Clark Street
Key Player: Matthias Merges, One Off Hospitality Group, West Town Bakery, Smoke Daddy
The start of the 2018 baseball season isn’t the only thing Cubs fans should be excited about. Wrigleyville is stepping up its dining game in a major way, highlighted by multiple projects inside the forthcoming Hotel Zachary across the street from Wrigley Field. The building will have a two-story outpost of One Off Hospitality Group’s popular honky tonk taqueria and whiskey bar, Big Star. Guests may not have to wait hours for a table like at the original location though; Big Star Wrigleyville will have 9,000 square-feet of fun and a large outdoor patio too. Those on the go can grab tacos at the take-out window and the space will also double as a musical venue.
Other additions to Hotel Zachary include places from Smoke Daddy and West Town Bakery, and a bar from Matthias Merges. Mordecai — a reference to early 20th century pitcher Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown — will feature a curated cocktail selection, a large collection of rare and vintage spirits, and accompanying small bites. Win or lose, there should be plenty of good times for North Siders come Opening Day.
Location: 1709 W. Chicago Avenue
Key Player: Mark Steuer
Beer is often the answer to life’s problems so Mark Steuer is going to make a lot of people happy when his latest project arrives. The former chef at El Che Bar and Carriage House is turning an old West Town warehouse into a jovial beer hall. Expect traditional German fare with a side of Southern touches that reflect Steuer’s upbringing. Yes, sausages and massive schnitzels are destined to become favorites but there will be dishes like wildgoulash and tart flambée as well. The beverage program won’t just focus on brews either; out-of-the-box cocktails and an assortment of German wines are among the planned offerings.
Location: 2515 N. Milwaukee Avenue
Key Player: Bo Fowler
It’s been a long time coming for the sequel to one of Chicago’s best gastropubs. Owen & Engine owner Bo Fowler is staying put in Logan Square with Bixi, a brewpub that will house the neighborhood’s first rooftop patio. Its food will pivot toward Pan Asian cuisine, such as noodles and dumplings, while the brews will also be imbued with Chinese flavors. Comic book writer Brian Azzarello is helping to design the tap handles and the name of the project is likewise steeped in fantasy — Bixi is a mythical dragon-turtle creature.
Location: 1760 N. Milwaukee Avenue
Key Players: Jonathan Schnapp, Ashley Albert
There’s no shortage of things to do in Bucktown but the neighborhood is getting even more action with a shuffleboard club and bar. Brooklyn-based Royal Palms has breathed new life into the classic game and local players will soon be able to join the fun at its second outpost. It’ll take place inside a spacious 17,000-square-foot warehouse that also has amenities like a rooftop deck and food truck dock. If the popularization of ping pong and darts in recent years is any indication, shufflin’ could become 2018’s hottest activity.
Location: 111 W. Wacker Drive
Key Player: Rick Gresh
The group that brought London’s ping-pong barstaurant AceBounce to American soil is targeting a new sport in 2018. Situated next to its sister concept, this two-level darts club will test Chicagoans’ abilities to hit their mark. Flight Club’s 14 playing areas, called oches, can host up to 20 players and chef Rick Gresh (David Burke’s Primehouse, Virgin Hotels Chicago) will be complementing the festivities with salads, flatbreads, dips, and other shareable items. Ownership promises that the space itself will be a modern interpretation of a 1900s English fairground with playful, botanical-driven cocktails and a relaxed atmosphere to lend to that theme.
Location: 205 W. Wacker Drive
Key Player: Jimmy Bannos Jr., Jeff Mauro, Shin Thompson, Takashi Yagihashi
Variety is the spice of life, which helps explain the recent influx of food halls. Downtown workers won’t have to worry about a boring lunch anytime soon as another one, Wells St. Market, is poised to provide more intriguing options. The lineup will include tried-and-true vendors, such as Furious Spoon and Pork and Mindy’s, alongside newcomers like modern Polish concept The Chow Brothers. The biggest attraction, though, could be Piggie Smalls — a fast-casual spinoff of The Purple Pig that serves Greek street fare.
Location: 5440 N. River Road, Rosemont
Key Players: Bill Murray and brothers
Fans of actor Bill Murray and his cult classic film Caddyshack should have mid-April circled on their calendars for tee time. That’s when the actor’s golf movie-themed sports bar is due to open out in nearby Rosemont. The 8,600-square-foot can hold up to 256 guests and will include a retail area, dozens of televisions, and Golden Tee machines. A conventional array of American fare will be served, such as sandwiches, steaks, salads, Chicago-style dogs, and “crispy potato golf balls.” No word on whether groundhogs will be welcome.