Dining at Navy Pier used to be a joke with fast food dominating the famous tourist attraction known for its the giant ferris wheel and slow-moving crowds of out of towners. But over the last two years, pier officials set out to change that, and have added more local flavors like Original Rainbow Cone and Brown Sugar Bakery.
Now, the biggest splash has arrived in the form of a new flagship restaurant. Chef Art Smith’s Reunion is open next to the pier’s main entrance. It’s a Southern restaurant that features fried chicken, salads, and sandwiches. Smith, who opened a restaurant with a similar menu (Homecomin’) in Orlando at Disney Springs, says he hopes his restaurant will attract more than tourists. He says he’s remaining in Chicago indefinitely to assure the launch goes smoothly at the high-volume spot. But the jury, of course, is still out if Reunion can rise above tourist trap expectations.
Creating a welcoming dining room is key for Smith, who says he’s always dreamed of being an ambassador. It’s something he’s done as a champion for LGBTQ rights. He traveled to Europe earlier this year and spent time in Portugal. He says he had the opportunity in May to raise the rainbow flag above the U.S. embassy in Lisbon.
Navy Pier isn’t quite an embassy, but it does represent a gateway to Chicago. Smith wants to create a warm environment with cocktails, CBD baked goods, and more. Reunion will be a work in progress, and Smith wants to add “the best” drag brunch in Chicago: “Something wonderful, really just blow it out the door and be fun,” he says.
Staffing has been an issue at Disney and in Chicago. Smith acknowledges that the restaurant business is a bit of a gamble in the current environment, but says he and partners George and Manolis Alpogianis of America’s Dog & Burger are ready for the challenge.
“They wanted a name, and so that’s why I’m here,” Smith says. “I’m excited.”
Take a tour through the space below. Chef Art Smith’s Reunion is now open.
Chef Art Smith’s Reunion, Navy Pier, 700 E. Grand Avenue, (312) 224-1415, open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, reservations via OpenTable.