It would be easy to blame the owners of Saved by the Max for the many pop-culture pop-ups in Chicago. The Max crew, after all, molded what was supposed to be a short-lived Wicker Park pop-up into a nationally recognized brand celebrating ‘90s sit-com characters Zack Morris, Screech Powers, and Kelly Kapowski.
But the owners are pivoting from pop-ups on Friday and opening Dorian’s, a restaurant inspired by ‘60s jazz clubs inside the very same space where Mario Lopez (Saved by the Bell’s A.C. Slater) dined. Customers will hear jazz, funk, and boogie while dining and drinking at 1939 W. North Avenue.
There’s still some chatter that the team could work on another pop-up at another venue. The success of the Max and the collaboration with NBC brought co-owners Zack Eastman (The East Room), Steve Harris (Debonaire Social Club), and Derek Berry (Beauty Bar) plenty of attention. Berry even moved his family to LA to launch the Max near Hollywood.
But when it came to the future of the Chicago space, Eastman said they wanted something permanent that complemented the neighborhood. He described the project — part restaurant, bar, music venue, and record store — as a spot where groups can gather and friends can chat. It’s a place where he would want to hang out with carefully curated music from DJs and bands.
“It’s not another pizza joint,” Eastman said of a block crowded with dough slingers. “It’s like pizza wars on North Avenue.”
They again turned to chef Brian Fisher for the menu. Inspired by travels to the Max in LA and the city’s famous Thai restaurants — like Jitlada — Dorian’s menu is heavy on Asian influences plus a tiki theme. Fisher, the chef at Michelin-starred Entente in Lakeview, is even bringing over a variation of chicken liver mousse to Dorian’s. Entente serves it topped with flavors similar to a clarified Old Fashioned, while it has Mai Tai flavors at Dorian’s. There’s also a Berkshire pork larb that’s Eastman’s favorite dish. Fisher is busy with Entente, so he designed the recipes to be “foolproof” as he won’t often be on premises. That’s the same formula used at the Max. They’re also offering caviar service.
Fisher isn’t the only staff member with Michelin-starred experience. Beverage director John Hess comes over from the Aviary. He left the Alinea Group’s Fulton Market cocktail bar in June because he said Dorian’s ownership gave him a blank check to “do whatever I wanted behind the bar.”
Dorian’s customers won’t be as patient as Aviary’s clientele so Hess has two draft cocktails: vodka soda and tequila and soda. His menu has 11 drinks and will change three times a year. Highlights include a Japanese whisky drink with ground shiitake mushrooms. But the one that might garner the most attention in Wicker Park is Hess’ spin on a Brandy Alexander. It tastes like Fruit Loops (made Rhine Hall cherry brandy, cereal milk, Italicus bergamot liqueur, Wray & Nephew Earl Grey tincture, cereal dust). Also expect large-format cocktails for sharing.
One of the cocktails is named after Dorian Cole, an employee at Saved by the Max who recently died. Cole went by “Big E” and is the restaurant’s namesake. Proceeds from that drink’s sales will toward a fund for Cole’s family, Eastman said.
Dorian’s also has a pretty significant music component as customers will pass through a record store to enter the dining room. Joe Bryl, former owner of Sonotheque — the West Town danceclub — is Dorian’s programming director. He helps curate the vinyl inventory at the store, talking to as many 60 different vinyl junkies to help ensure Dorian’s will have diverse music. Bryl also upgraded the restaurant’s sound, bringing in EPA, a fancy Italian brand. “We just want people to get into our groove,” Bryl said.
Stay tuned for more coverage. Dorian’s opens on Friday.