There’s no perfect timing to open a restaurant, but José Andrés and Gibsons Restaurant Group were hopeful that they had found the right window when they debuted Bazaar Meat and Bar Mar earlier in December along the Chicago River, near Washington and Wacker Drive. With Bazaar on the second floor and Bar Mar on the first, Andrés’s offerings anchor Bank of America’s new 57-story Chicago headquarters.
Andrés, of course, is the celebrity chef and humanitarian from Spain who is now based in Washington, D.C. The hospitality industry looks to him for inspiration: he’s a chef who does more than cook. He’s focused on feeding victims of natural disasters; most recently he was aiding folks in Kentucky who were affected by the tornado that also tore through Southern Illinois.
As Andrés explained at a media preview, opening two restaurants at once was not the original plan. But the pandemic changed things. The Bank of America Tower had opened at the end of 2020, but it was just this summer when workers began populating their new offices. Andrés, his team at Think Food Group, and Gibsons were all hopeful that the global pandemic would soon end as holdouts would see the virtue and science of being vaccinated. December seemed like the right time to debut.
But then omicron arrived, leading the city of Chicago on Tuesday, December 21 to announce a new mandate for vaccines at restaurants and bars starting January 3. Gibsons had kept its nine other restaurants open for much of the pandemic, so they have an idea how to navigate choppy waters. And so Andrés’s newest venture is staying open.
“The health and safety of our guests and staff is our number one priority,” reads a joint statement from ownership. “We will continue to follow and comply with all recommendations and mandates from the city of Chicago and the CDC. We believe in the power of food to bring people together, and in these trying times, we need that more than ever.”
Part of the challenge is informing diners about the vaccine mandate. Both restaurants use SevenRooms, the New York-based company that handles reservations for all of Andres’ restaurants. The portal includes bells and whistles like “vaccination verified” tags so customers won’t have to show proof to every single restaurant that uses SevenRooms. Like its competitors, SevenRooms will also send reminder texts prior to reservation times telling customers they need to bring proof.
While Chicago doesn’t offer a vaccine passport — locals will have to bring in their paper cards or a digital copy — SevenRooms has integrated New York’s app-based systems like Excelsior Pass and Key to NYC for its Big Apple restaurants, according to company co-founder Joel Montaniel.
Once customers in Chicago comply with safety regulations, they’ll be greeted by Bar Mar, a bright happy hour destination with high ceilings and 200 seats on the first floor. Forty-foot floor-to-ceiling windows wrap around the building. The centerpiece is an octopus sculpture that hangs above the main bar. There’s also a raw bar in the back with delicacies like crudo and sashimi. Other dishes of note include a fried oyster po’ boy with caviar on a steamed brioche bun. Another specialty is an everything bagel air bread shaped like a fish.
Upstairs, customers pass past a few coolers filled with wagyu and other prized cuts of beef before they enter the moody red Bazaar Meat space. There are two bars, a 10-seater and an eight “meat bar,” both created by Barcelona designer Lázaro Rosa-Violán. Diners can try out unique steaks (there’s a Japanese wagyu program with meats ranging from $30 to $55 per ounce), cured meats, and Iberian suckling pig.
This is Andrés’s fourth full-service restaurant in Chicago. He opened Jaleo over the summer in River North, followed by an all-day cafe, also in the Bank of America Tower. Come tour Bazaar Meat and Bar Mar below.