Joe Flamm knows how a 50-degree day with a splinter of sunshine can be a boon to Chicago’s restaurant and bar owners, and he’s hopeful that a unique 100-seat all-season patio at BLVD in Fulton Market will allow locals to regularly enjoy the outdoors with a delicious meal, snack, or tasty beverage.
Last summer, Flamm diverted his attention from Rose Mary, the Croatian-Italian restaurant in Fulton Market he opened with Sancerre Hospitality. He took his talents a few blocks away to Sancerre’s first restaurant, BLVD. The lavish space that celebrated excess in a Great Gatsby way has changed since it opened in 2017. During the pandemic, everything had to evolve to survive. Sancerre rebranded the space as a steakhouse in 2020. Flamm then last year reworked about 60 percent of BLVD’s menu, giving the restaurant a refresh.
By that time, Sancerre had begun work on a new all-season patio with retractable screens. Designers at Aria Group were going for a secret garden feel with linen curtains and string lighting to provide intimacy. An 11-foot-tall pergola can be covered by motorized screens during rainy days. There’s also room for large groups at two 10-seat tables.
“You can sit out there with your martinis and a dozen oysters and shellfish, your beef tartare,” Flamm says. “You can sit out for date night or with groups of friends and have a filet and sip big, red wines. You can run the gamut.”
This wasn’t some sidewalk job bussers and servers set up on sidewalks before a restaurant opens. Construction took nine months. Flamm says the new outdoor space gives BLVD another chance to introduce itself to diners and to show off changes. Luxury has its price, and not everyone was keen on spending on a lavish meal. The patio is a barrier breaker, allowing passersby to peek over the fence and see what the restaurant can offer. Flamm hopes workers with offices nearby, including Google and McDonald’s, are lured.
Flamm and Sancerre believe an amenity like this doesn’t really exist in the West Loop and Fulton Market. The motivation to build was to fill a niche and generate some buzz for the six-year-old restaurant.
Customer patterns are more unpredictable since the pandemic, especially tracking any after-work crowds. Illinois took years to legalize happy hour drink specials and then COVID struck keeping workers away from their offices as health experts warned against drinking in bars. But three years in, happy hour crowds are slowly returning, albeit it’s different. With their supply of workers who split their time at home and at the office, Fulton Market and West Loop provide a new stream of customers. For example, check out a bar like Lone Wolf on a weekday night along Randolph Street. For BLVD, the space makes them a player to win those customers.
The full BLVD menu is available indoors or outside, including those fancy steaks from vendors like Westholme Wagyu. Decadent shrimp cocktails are apparently a national trend, reports Ryan Sutton in a piece for Bon Appetit. Flamm says there’s nothing super novel about BLVD’s version, but the restrained approach is what he’d call the best shrimp cocktail in Chicago. Asparagus is in season, so Flamm’s serving seared scallops with the vegetable in a brown butter vinaigrette and pine nuts. Blackened salmon served over a bed of grits provides another highlight. Flamm also touts a veal chop with fried caper aioli while praising the wine program curated by Ted Rink. Rink worked with Flamm at Spiaggia before the Italian powerhouse closed off the Mag Mile.
Take a look at the space in the photos below.
BLVD patio, 817 W. Lake Street, open daily starting at 4:30 p.m.