During the pandemic, social distancing and work from home made life feel like folks were hunkering down in bunkers. Now that the world has learned to better handle COVID, the owners of Heritage Bicycles is asking locals to come join him in their own shelter, one made comfy by the presence of beer, vintage cocktail arcade video game tables, and unique burritos from the chef at Antique Taco.
Bunker is the name of a new bar from Heritage’s Mike Salvatore, with food from close friend, chef Rick Ortiz. While Randolph Street and Fulton Market, with their escalating real estate prices and non-stop development, may overshadow much of the West Loop, Salvatore is determined to give the area the neighborhood sports bar and hangout it deserves, where the bartenders know their customers’ names and where patrons can have real conversations without being drowned out by bass: “We’ve got some great cocktails and awesome food from Rick,” Salvatore says.
Bunker is set to officially open on Friday, April 29 at 1515 W. Monroe Street. Salvatore opened Heritage in 2012, a hybrid coffee and bike shop he founded with wife Melissa. They’ve gone on to launch more projects including Larry’s, the cocktail lounge in Uptown.
Salvatore wants to fill Bunker with what it would take to create his perfect hangout. There’s coolers filled with canned beer (they’re also available to go). Most will be local, but Salvatore also wants to stock Pilsen, a Peruvian lager. There’s also 12 drafts on tap. Two arcade cocktail tables are loaded with hundreds of vintage games. The food would have to match that vibe, and so he enlisted his friend. Ortiz met Salvatore about 10 years ago while he was a customer at their Wicker Park restaurant. The two men are about the same age and come from a Latin background (Ortiz’s family is Mexican, Salvatore’s is Peruvian). They’re both South Siders and their families travel together. And they both work at family-run businesses; Ashley Ortiz co-founded Antique Taco with her husband in 2012 and they’ve since added a Bridgeport location.
Ortiz scheme up three special burritos made with 12-inch flour tortillas. These aren’t “burritos as big as your head.” It’s kind of a compromise as Salvatore was excited about having sandwiches. The poblano pombazo is a mushroom melt in disguise, with chihuahua cheese, roasted poblanos, and crimini and shiitake mushrooms. The burrito gets a little dip for the red color and flavor.
“It’s good ingredients, technique, it’s not something as big as [Antique Taco’s] fried chicken burrito,” Ortiz says. “The goal is to try a few, let’s say order two burritos and a side.”
All burritos benefit from crisping after a kiss on the flattop. Another of Ortiz’s creations, cerveza chicken, is marinated in beer for 24 hours. It’s also served with aji amarillo aioli, as way to bring in Salvatore’s roots from Peru.
The bar is about a few blocks from the United Center, and Salvatore hopes extended playoff runs by the Chicago Bulls and the Blackhawks would help business. That won’t happen this summer, with both teams faltering. But never fear, there’s the Pitchfork Music Festival in nearby Union Park. Bunker also has a 74-seat and dog-friendly patio. Eventually, they’ll add what Salvatore calls a “fresh-air menu.” That’s a way to distinguish the patio’s food from the more robust nutrition that a burrito provides. Ortiz is still experimenting, but the thought is light fare like oysters, ceviche, and salads. They’ll also serve the appropriate patio pounders for beverages. Yes, West Loopers, frosé is coming from bar manager Eric Jobes. So is a Spanish-style gin and tonic using infused spirits.
The interiors will also feature some obscure music from a Chicago record label. Numero Group specializes in reissues and compilations of previously unreleased tracks. The space is a former Salvation Army, which lends itself a bit to a bunker. Salvatore and his team finished the build out in June 2020, but the project stalled as they waited for proper city approvals; City Hall business slowed during the pandemic.
Bunker, 1515 W. Monroe Street, (773) 823-5818, open 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday; 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday and Sunday; 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.