José Andrés isn’t entirely comfortable posing for selfies with guests or talking shop inside his massive new Chicago restaurant complex. The Spanish chef was in town last week in preparation for the openings of his two latest restaurants, Bazaar Meat and Bar Mar.
The restaurants are a collaboration between Andrés’s ThinkFoodGroup and Chicago’s Gibsons Restaurant Group, are decadent anchors at the base of the 56-story Bank of America Tower that sits on the Chicago River and was completed in late 2020. Both spaces will open on Wednesday, a week later than scheduled, after a furniture delivery delay.
Andrés says his partners wanted to stagger the openings, but the pandemic forced their hands, and so first-floor Bar Mar — which features a raw bar and fresh seafood small plates — and second-floor Bazaar Meat — which features Gibsons’s prized Australian wagyu beef and other cuts from purveyors like La Pryor Farms — opened at once.
Both spaces are beautiful. Bar Mar is the more visually striking of the two: the 200-seat dining room sits beneath a 40-foot ceiling, and a giant octopus sculpture hovers in the air above the bar where bartenders mix smoked cocktails and other concoctions. Patrons can order caviar, ceviche, and more. Huge glass windows enclose the space.
Upstairs, Bazaar Meat is more intimate, and diners can watch the action in the open kitchen. The Lombardos, the family that owns Gibsons, say they were impressed during a visit to the Bazaar location in Las Vegas. They’re adapting the concept to Chicago, where diners will find whole suckling pig, full-blood wagyu, and fine cured meats. A custom-built Ipsor oven from Spain cooks most of the meat.
Andres, a former Nobel Peace Prize finalist, says he’s excited to finally open in Chicago. His tapas restaurant, Jaleo, opened in July in River North and a basement bar followed. Earlier this year, an all-day cafe — Cafe by the River — opened with seating by the water. A 40-seat patio is planned to open outside Bar Mar next year.
But for Andrés, a celebrity chef who appears on late-night television shows, this party is a distraction. While he’s happy to ham it up with his fans, he worries about his humanitarian endeavors. World Central Kitchen focuses on helping victims of natural disasters. A few days later, tornadoes would touch down in Kentucky, Illinois, Tennessee, Missouri, and Arkansas, and Andrés immediately donated money, resources, and food to the recovery efforts. Andrés has been vocal about the government needing to play a large role in helping the poor, and his criticism of the Trump administration made reliable election cycle news fodder. Andrés says most of those stories were fair, but occasionally he took issue with misleading headlines.
For now, though, Andrés is content to play along and answer questions. He says he has no plans to open any more restaurants in Chicago, but he’s intrigued by some of the customs. Though he’s had a Chicago-style hot dog, he has yet to try the city’s famed bitter spirit, Jeppson’s Malört: “You learn something new every day,” he says.