The owners of Cheesie’s Pub and Grub, the late-night grilled cheese haven in Lakeview that many customers go after getting tanked, are maturing with a new and more serene project. Ownership is calling it “the ultimate date spot” with luxurious cocktails that cost upwards of $55.
Lost Reef should open around Valentine’s Day with an eye-popping 2,500 gallons of fish and coral inside eight saltwater fish tanks at the northeast corner of Belmont and Sheffield, replacing Slice of Cheesies, the ownership’s nostalgic pizza spot that lasted five years. It’s a radical departure from the old digs. There aren’t noisy arcade video games or even TVs. Lost Reef is meant to be an opulent cocktail bar where customers will need a reservation.
The mood should be serene with dim blue lighting inside the 72-seater. The tanks are custom designed by Tank It Easy in Albany Park and scattered across an intimate 3,000-square-foot space, according to a news release.
The space will take reservations via Tock, another departure from owner Chris Johnston’s venues. He runs the original Cheesie’s in Lakeview, plus another location in Wicker Park — that spaces neighbors a two-floor bar with rooftop lounge, Whiskey Business. Last year, Johnston also opened a bar in West Loop, the shipping container-centric Electric Garden. Johnston’s now calling his enterprise CPG Restaurant Group. His collaborator, Tony Contri, came up with the Lost Reef concept. Johnston and Contri feel the bar is something Chicago has never seen.
Lost Reef’s marine theme and aesthetics extend to the cocktail menu, an upscale collection of classics like gimlets and boulevardiers, and signature submissions such as the smoke bubble-topped Anchor Aweigh (Ketel One Citroen, apricot liqueur, five-spice syrup), and booze-free “Knot-Tails.” It will also feature group drinks, a style that’s reemerged after an understandable pandemic lull, which the team dubbed “the Great Whales.” These include Blood and Sand, a concoction of Laphroaig 10 Yr. Islay Single Malt, Luxardo Maraschino, and Carpano Antica sweet vermouth; and La Capitana, made with tequila, Aperol, and green chartreuse with a candy bubble garnish. Lakeview isn’t known for cocktailing and Lost Reef could fill a niche.
Customers can also expect an assortment of bar bites with options such as hamachi crudo with yuzu and serrano, as well as mezcal-cured salmon with caviar and cucumber-jicama salsa. There are also options for those who’d rather watch the fish than eat them, including vegetarian watermelon sashimi with whipped feta and filet mignon carpaccio.
Beyond the walls of Lost Reef, however, coral reefs — which cover less than 1 percent of the world’s oceans but house more than a quarter of all marine life — are falling victim to threats like warming seas and disease. The bar’s owners are hoping to play a role in repairing these ecosystems by donating proceeds from every Tock reservation and $5 from every sale of its Treasure Chest cocktail to the Coral Restoration Foundation, a Florida-based nonprofit.
Lost Reef, 964 W. Belmont Avenue, scheduled to open Wednesday, February 15.