Boka Restaurant Group’s designers have done their best to breathe new life into the 120-year-old building in Lakeview that housed a brothel, speakeasy, and several brewhouses.
Brand Bureau didn’t leave many signs of the building’s past life which started around 1900 when Schlitz Brewing built the structure. The only identifier might be outside where a Schlitz logo remains on the building’s northern wall. With a Tuesday afternoon ribbon-cutting, the building — most recently home to Southport Lanes — starts a new chapter. Boka is an award-winning restaurant company known for trendy spots like Le Select, where celebrities and celebrity wannabes, keep the dining room crowded in River North.
The Southport Corridor is decidedly more family-friendly than downtown, and Boka is trying something new by opening three restaurants in the building. GG’s Chicken Shop, a small and bright space that will focus more on takeout with counter service, sells rotisserie and fried chicken, plus a variety of poultry sandwiches. GG’s has a corner entrance. Itoko, a Japanese restaurant with an interior that blends Japanese and Scandinavian design, has an entrance one door south with a full bar on the first floor with a 650-square-foot private dining room on the second floor. The windows provide clear views of Southport. This wasn’t the case in the ‘20s. The building’s owners didn’t want anyone from the street to see elicit activities.
The third component, a new location of celebrity chef Stephanie Izard’s Little Goat Diner, continues to be under construction. That restaurant’s entrance will be on the Henderson side. Fans of Izard’s fun desserts at her bakery, Sugargoat, have bad news as that operation isn’t moving to Lakeview. Little Goat should open by April.
Chef Gene Kato, who oversees Boka’s West Loop restaurant has created the menu for Itoko, billed as the little cousin of Momotaro. Though it’s more casual versus its older relative, Itoko is full service with dishes with luxe ingredients like chirashi don with Kaluga caviar and foie gras and pork gyoza. The restaurant will feature grilled items and sushi. There are also bento boxes for kids and ramen.
As Boka makes waves in New York and LA, the Lakeview project gives its home base something unique. Unless Rob Katz and Kevin Boehm decided to clone the restaurants for other markets. They would never dare, would they?