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A Top-Flight Taco Operation Will Help Power a New Wicker Park Bar

Desert Hawk and its agave cocktails and smash burgers are replacing Pub Royale

Coming Attractions
Desert Hawk is coming to Wicker Park.

A popular Chicago pop-up taco and burger operation has found a permanent home thanks to an LA-based bar group who will con mix-up creative cocktails in Wicker Park.

Desert Hawk is the first Chicago project from Goat Group — not to be confused with celebrity chef Stephanie Izard’s Girl & the Goat. The team of LA neighborhood bars is working with Taco Sublime, a pop-up known for griddled, cheesy tacos. But as they also cook burgers and more, they’ve broadened their brand to Cocina Sublime. The crew is aiming for a mid-August debut at 2049 W. Division Street.

Housed in the long and narrow space previously occupied by Heisler Hospitality’s Pub Royale, and before that Small Bar, Desert Hawk channels the shared California experiences of its creators, says co-owner Pete Figliulo. He’s a former Chicagoan who climbed the ranks at Goat Group, a collective behind more than 11 bars including the Surly Goat, the Blind Donkey, Thunderbird, and the Phoenix.

“This is a dream come true for me,” says Figliulo, who grew up in the Western Suburbs and snagged his first industry job at Binny’s liquor store. “[The partners] met in LA and cut our teeth in LA, but we’re coming here — from our perspective — in the spirit of respect and honor.”

Desert Hawk is partnering with Cocina Sublime’s chef Khaled Simon and Haley Pham. They pair have cooked up a haven for tacos and smash burgers inside Marz Community Brewing and at Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club. The duo’s fun and irreverent style will match the laid-back, unpretentious vibe at Desert Hawk, Figliulo says.

Desert Hawk’s 91-seat space didn’t require much alteration, equipped with exposed brick walls that lend themselves to a neutral, desert palette and a massive smoked mirror above the back bar. Figliulo’s wife, designer Stella Cho, has weighed in on the facelift, cultivating a Western-tinged aesthetic with wooden booths, tiles that evoke terra cotta, and a wall mural featuring a prickly Joshua tree by Chicago artist Tracy Danet. A large sidewalk patio seats 25, and the team hopes it will become a preferred hangout spot for agave cocktails during the city’s hottest months.

That same warm-weather energy extends to the opening drink menu, which draws on favorites from the group’s existing bars as the staff settles in. Early options will include the Hot Ferrari (mezcal, amaro nonino, ancho reyes, ghost pepper tincture) — a spicy spin on a Cadillac margarita, their own fizzy Ranch Water (blanco tequila, lime, highball soda) and the Desert Spoon (mezcal, Luxardo, aperol, lime). Once the team is hitting its rhythm, however, the menu will likely change quite a bit.

“We want the staff to have their fingerprints on it and to feel some pride,” Figliulo says. “Within a year, there probably won’t be any drinks that I recognize, but it’ll all be good stuff.”

Even after the bar’s debut, the work continues for the Goat Group and partners to work Ray Garcia, Ryan Sweeney, and Allan Aivazian. They’re also working toward a fall debut for another bar, the Low Horse, again in Wicker Park. Most details about the forthcoming spot are under wraps, but it involved a full gut on its space and will feature whiskey.

Desert Hawk, 2049 W. Division Street, Scheduled to open in August.