The ownership of the United Center — a combination of the folks behind the Blackhawks and the Bulls — for the last few years have made several changes in and around the 24-year-old arena on the Near West Side. For instance, they’ve moved the iconic Michael Jordan statue inside into a new atrium. Now they’re teaming with restaurant company Heisler Hospitality to open a restaurant open to the general public and event ticket holders. Queenie’s Super Club, named for Virginia “Queenie” Wirtz — the late matriarch of the family who owns the Blackhawks, debuts on Friday.
The main dining room seats 270 and the restaurant features a 45-seat balcony hanging over the new atrium. While Chicago sports fans have suffered this week thanks to the success of the Packers and Brewers at the expense of the Bears and Cubs, Queenie’s will happily appropriate Wisconsin supper club culture. No, they won’t pipe in the piney aroma of the Northern Woods into the dining room. Heisler co-founder Kevin Heisner designed the space as a more modern interpretation. For customers who have frequented Heisler’s bars and restaurants — such as Queen Mary in Wicker Park — they’ll see a few design similarities and riffs. There’s also a piano bar.
Heisner compared one design element to the Death Star from Star Wars: Most stadiums have giant video screens, and Heisner created his own version of the Jumbotron. It’s a hexagon attached to the ceiling with six screens. It’s got the charm of a ‘60s James Bond film with gadgets procured from Q — maybe that’s due to Queenie’s logo which uses the letter. So while patrons will see taxidermy and other remnants of classic supper club culture, Queenie’s offers a twist.
“They let me keep going,” Heisner said of working with the United Center. “They didn’t hold back.”
The idea of a supper club has generational appeal, said Heisler’s other co-founder Matt Eisler. Arena management wanted the building to be more of community beacon. Right now it will be open only on event days, but there are plans to expand hours. While Heisler drew up the concept, Levy, which handles food service for premium seating inside the United Center, will run the restaurant.
“It doesn’t look like a typical sports bar,” Eisler said.
America’s Dairyland isn’t the only influence on the menu. Chef Dan Snowden (Bad Hunter) grew up near Boston, and his menu features a New England touch with items like lobster Thermidor and miso-broiled crab legs. Those go along with the traditional supper club fare like fried walleye and prime rib. There’s also broasted chicken, an item the Tribune wrote about just last month. Snowden also used family recipes. The dressing for the warm spinach salad will be poured table side.
Arena food rarely outshines the concert or sporting event, so ticket holders won’t necessarily be patient while waiting for their food — they want to catch the action. Speedy preparation lingered in Snowden’s thoughts while creating the menu, but it wasn’t the main goal. Making tasty, elevated food was the priority.
No supper club experience is complete without an Old Fashioned made with brandy. They’ve got that one on tap and they’ll also serve ice cream cocktails. The beer selection won’t just be the line of Budweiser products sold around the arena. A kolsch, a collaboration with Whiner Beer, will be sold in frosty 20-ounce schooners.
Come back tomorrow for a peek inside the restaurant before the opening.