Chicagoans could be excused for coming down with a case of food hall fatigue. The city has seen a plethora of new food halls open in recent times, many including twists in hopes of differentiating themselves from the competition. But the massive new Time Out Market Chicago — which opened to the public this morning on Fulton Market — offers customers many distinguishing features that the others don’t. Here are its main draws.
The space is massive with distinct features
First off, the place is gargantuan. At 50,000 square feet over three floors including a roof deck, 600 seats, 18 vendors, event and demonstration spaces, and multiple drinking and other entertainment options, it’s the largest Time Out Market in the country. “We’re a little bit different [than other food halls] — we’re not a food court, we’re a food and cultural market,” Time Out Market CEO Didier Souillat says. “We’re trying to put the best of the city under one roof.”
The highlight of the space, which took around three years to complete following a full rebuild of the structure, is a massive skylight that hangs over around 70 percent of the open layout, flooding the entire first-floor communal seating area and much of the surrounding vendors with natural light. “For me, the biggest thing is this light is a game changer,” La Sirena Clandestina and El Che Steakhouse and Bar chef/owner John Manion says. “It’ll be the middle of winter and you’re going to want to sit here and hang out.”
Time Out Market prioritizes drinking and nighttime
Most Chicago food halls do brisk weekday business, especially at lunch, and often punt evenings, weekends, and bar service. But Time Out Market’s organizers expect its multiple bars and drinking options to be one of its main draws at night. In addition to staying open until 11 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, the space includes six prominent bars: three adjoined bars take up a large portion of the first floor, serving signature cocktails from acclaimed local bartenders, a wide selection of local beers, and wine; the rooftop indoor/outdoor bar Tony’s, named for Time Out founder Tony Elliot and serving more signature cocktails; the “speakeasy” bar Secret Sound, from the people behind essential tiki bar Lost Lake; and another second-floor bar with comfortable bleacher-style seating. Plenty of other seating exist on all three floors for people to linger and hang out with a drink, rather than just eating and running like many do at other food halls.
Secret Sound, in particular, should be a main attraction for drinkers. Initially meant to be just a service bar, the tiny second-floor corner space, inspired by the secretive drink-making practices of “tiki palaces of the ‘40s and ‘50s,” offers award-winning tiki cocktails through small sliding window doors. “The idea is you’re getting a peek into that secret kitchen where all the cocktails are being made,” Lost Lake partner Shelby Allison says, “that just beyond that wall is a huge beautiful bar with seating and music and fancy people and you can just never get there.”
One of the world’s largest media brands backs the market
A major aspect that differentiates Time Out Market from its competitors is the media company that backs it. The Time Out magazine brand is in 327 cities in 58 countries, Souillat says, and has a global monthly reach of 57 million people. This provides bountiful marketing dollars and brand awareness for the restaurants and bars inside, in addition to the market itself. Visitors will notice racks of Time Out magazines, listings and events from the publication on its giant video board, and its branding throughout the market. “If the thousand visitors we have every week in the market pick up the magazine, it goes full circle,” he says.
In addition to marketing and brand awareness, Time Out’s editorial team plays a major part in choosing the vendors “that’s right for the city” in each market. Souillat highlights Chicago-specific food items such as Duck Inn Dogs’s hot dogs, pizza from Art of Pizza, and Split-Rail’s fried chicken. “We work very very closely with the magazine,” he says.
It offers food from an all-star cast of chefs
Among its 18 distinct food and drink vendors, Time Out Market features multiple chefs from Michelin-starred restaurants, who have won James Beard awards, and past or present members of the Eater Chicago 38, a rarity for a food hall. All food comes with real dishes, glasses, and silverware, also a rarity for food halls. Customers can eat affordably — prices range from single digits for some items — or splurge on a $99 whole duck from chef Brian Fisher of Michelin-starred Entente.
“I think in one space here we’ve managed to get a feel for the gastronomical scene in Chicago,” Souillat says. “I think a tourist would quickly get a pretty big feel for the quality of the foods that represent Chicago.”
West Town German darling Funkenhausen is a late scratch to the lineup, and sushi stalwart Arami (from Ty Fujimura, who also owns Entente) is taking its second-floor space. Vendors have one-year agreements to start. “I don’t want people to feel like they’re in handcuffs here,” Souillat says. “We’re not forcing anyone to come, we’re not forcing anyone to stay. We’ve got to let this thing live before making an adjustment.”
Also expect cooking demonstrations on its second floor from the likes of Wicker Park pasta darling Tortello and Erick Williams of Eater Best New Restaurant Virtue in Hyde Park. Williams is the sole African-American chef involved with the project. A large event space also lives on the second floor, which can accommodate as many as 280 people, and customers can request one of the market’s chefs to handle the cooking.
Here are five food and drink options eaters shouldn’t miss:
Abe Conlon’s Porco Alentejana (sauteed manila clams, roast pork, Yukon potato, fennel, and vinho verde)
Decent Beef’s “Beet Street” (vegan Italian sandwich with spiced and roasted shaved beets and umami jus on a crusty sub roll)
Brian Fisher’s Chicken Katsu (chicken mousseline, fermented blueberries, kewpie, shio cabbage, shokupan, and beni shoga ginger)
John Manion’s Maximo Beef Rib (with charred salsa verde and horseradish sweet potatoes)
Pretty Cool Ice Cream’s Chicago Mix Fancy Pop
Here’s the food and drink layout at the market:
Thai Dang (HaiSous)
Bill Kim (Urbanbelly)
Brian Fisher (Entente)
Abe Conlon (Fat Rice)
John Manion (El Che Steakhouse and Bar and La Sirena Clandestina)
Duck Inn Dogs (Duck Inn)
Decent Beef (Duck Inn)
Sugar Cube (Jason Chan and Christine McCabe)
Cocktail, wine, and beer bars
Secret Sound (Lost Lake)
Arami (replacing Funkenhausen)
Private event space
Tony’s Rooftop Bar
Time Out Market Chicago, Open 8:00 a.m. until 11 p.m. on Sunday to Thursday, and 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.