Tucked away in the lobby of the Lawrence House apartment building, without any street-facing signage, hides Larry’s cocktail bar, a rare Uptown oasis for fancy drinks. The bar has been open for four years, but when owner Michael Salvatore noticed five months ago that the neighboring space formerly occupied by 3 Squares Diner was available, he had an idea to open a diner that would share a kitchen with the bar.
Salvatore doesn’t anticipate debuting Larry’s Diner until early next year; the opening will have to happen gradually thanks to the continuing pandemic, labor challenges, and the closure of the nearby CTA Lawrence El stop that reduced foot traffic. But in mid-September, he began testing out possible menu items by serving smash burgers and fries at the bar once a week.
“We were looking for feedback on whether the menu is good for the neighborhood and good for the customers,” Salvatore says. “And once we got feedback, we created the menu based on that.”
Starting this week, customers can preview Larry’s Diner from Thursday through Sunday. The menu is brief: the smash burger, crispy fries with garlic aioli, and roasted Brussels sprouts with miso vinaigrette. There’s also salchipapas — a Peruvian street food that Salvatore ate as a child on trips to visit his mother’s family in Lima: it combines fries, grilled hot sausage, garlic aioli, and herbs. Chef Ryan Silver, a veteran of Salvatore’s Heritage Hospitality Group, is working on a thin-crust pizza with a crispy crust that is somewhere between tavern and New York style in texture. Heritage Hospitality also owns the Heritage Outpost coffee shop in the same building as well as six other coffee and bike shops around the city.
Larry’s opened in 2017 with drinks from Wade McElroy and Jeff Donahue, two Chicago bar vets that have gone on to open Ludlow Liquor’s and Big Kids in Logan Square. The duo’s most notable work, perhaps, is Sportsman’s Club in West Town. The bar at Larry’s is now run by Anne Marineau. Salvatore envisions the diner as an extension of Larry’s bar operations. He’s always considered the venue an unpretentious neighborhood alternative to fancier and higher priced cocktail bars downtown.
“You don’t have to dress up to go to a neighborhood bar,” he says. “And if you make accessible food with really good quality ingredients, it doesn’t have to be dressed up.”
Over time, the bar menu will grow. Salvatore says he plans to expand bar menu service to Tuesdays and Wednesdays within the next couple of months and hopes to be able to open the diner with a full menu sometime in early 2022. Eventually, he wants to stay open all day, every day.
“We would open all at once if this were normal times,” Salvatore says. “But now it depends on labor and how we get through the winter. We’re not trying to grind this out because we have to. We want to take our time and make sure we open up in the best possible way for our employees.”
Larry’s Diner, inside Larry’s, 1020 W. Lawrence Avenue, planned for an early 2022 opening. Menu preview at Larry’s bar from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.