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Kitchen + Kocktails takes over the former Benny’s Chop House.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

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Tour River North’s Instagram-Friendly Comfort Food Palace

Kitchen + Kocktails by Kevin Kelley celebrates Black culture in Downtown Chicago with a chic space and creative fare

Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

Chicago has delighted Kevin Kelley ever since he decided to bring his Dallas restaurant to River North. Kelley sees Kitchen + Kocktails by Kevin Kelley as Chicago’s next great restaurant, to complement a downtown Chicago scene and attracting diners who frequent energetic dining rooms like Maple & Ash and Adalina.

He believes that there’s no restaurant in America (beyond his Dallas location) that serves comfort foods (items like lobster macaroni and cheese and a tomahawk steak with a Hennessy cognac glaze) in a setting like Kitchen + Kocktails provides. That is fun, upscale, and fit for special occasions.

“We just want to serve people and want to make them happy,” Kelley says.

A wide open dining room with wooden floors, a bright mural and a chandelier. Photo was taken at night. Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

The space featured LEDs and Instagrammable displays like the inevitable neon angel wings. Kelley warns that customers won’t hear “elevator music” but the tunes they’d play in the car, dropping the names of Chicago artists like Common and Chance The Rapper.

A top priority for Kelley is encouraging customers to dress up. Dress codes at restaurants can be slippery slopes, but Kelly is intent in enforcing that same standards he’s established in Dallas. That means no sports jerseys, caps, or athletic slippers. Also of note, as explained on Instagram, are restrictions on “revealing outfits” that “show a woman’s private parts.”

There might be a generational schism on what customers feel is appropriate when it comes to dress codes, but Kelley says he feels Chicago has already embraced the dress code as he wants an atmosphere where people feel good and are “surrounded by people dressed beautifully.”

Whether the beautiful people show up or not, Kelley says there’s already a stiff demand for reservations (which he’s releasing every two weeks). In Dallas, professional athletes like the Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott and former Cowboy Dez Bryant were known to stop by. Kelley hopes Chicago athletes from the Bulls and Bears will find their ways to his restaurant. Other celebs that have visited Dallas include 50 Cent, plus actor and comic Bill Bellamy. While the Kelley is amped in serving famous people, he warns that celebrities aren’t what he considers his real VIPs: It’s the regular customers who will make or break his business.

With that in mind, the restaurant is opening with lunch and brunch service at the start. As dinner reservations are booked for the immediate future, walk-ins will be welcomed at the bar area. While the menu is similar to Dallas, Kelley will still pander to Chicago’s Black community with references to Rev. Jesse Jackson and the city’s first Black mayor, Harold Washington. There’s also a photo of Beyonce wearing a Bulls’ Derrick Rose jersey and photos of Barack and Michelle Obama. Kelley says it’s important to pay tribute to Black politicians and celebrities who have broken into the mainstream, and to recognize their accomplishments.

Kelley, an attorney by trade, is thankful to the support he’s received in Chicago. The city’s real estate market is a tough nut to crack, especially for Black entrepreneurs. He mentioned names like Kenny Johnson, the owner of Bureau Bar, and his real estate broker, David Goldberg, for opening up opportunities. He may have other Chicago projects up his sleeve, but for now, he’s ready to show Chicago a good time in River North.

Take a look at the space, food, and drinks below.

Kitchen + Kocktails by Kevin Kelley, 444 N. Wabash, open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Monday through Thursday 10 11 p.m. on Friday; 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Weekend brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

A trio of lamb chops on a plate with sides.
Lamb chops with fried lobster tail.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago
Tomahawk steak
Fish and grits
Dream eggs with blackened shrimp.
Cajun crab cakes.
Yams, mac and cheese, and mashed potatoes.
Waffles with Fruity Pebbles.
Black Magic
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