A new West Town bar and restaurant will try to channel the vibes of an Asian night market, the outdoor street fairs famous in Southeast Asian countries like China, Korea, Vietnam, and Cambodia.
Jook Sing is from the team behind Press Room, a West Loop wine bar that opened in 2017. They’re overhauling the space that most recently housed Nepali and Indian restaurant Vajra, creating a room for food, drinks, and merchandise.
“The premise of most night markets is a place for everyone and that’s the kind of atmosphere we’re going for,” Paul Mena says. “Families — if they want to — come through. And then later at night, we might have a DJ on a specific night for a younger core as we turn more into a bar with great food.”
Mena is a managing partner along with Jeff Williams. They’re joined by chefs Christian Sia (Delta) and Michael McCants (Au Cheval, Income Tax). Sia worked in Singapore at restaurants like Garibaldi Italian Restaurant & Bar and Jaan Par Andre. He’s bringing some of that inspiration to Jook Sing’s menu which contains Japanese, Indonesian, Singapore, Malaysian, Thai, and Filipino tastes. Though they’ll have some traditional dishes, Sia and McCants vow to bring new spins on bar bites and more.
The Press Room team discovered a niche during the pandemic when politicians suspended indoor dining. They launched outdoor winter markets in West Loop where they drew families looking for gifts and snacks or couples looking for a quirky date idea. They’re channeling that spirit into their West Town project. Folks can stop by for a meal, a late-night drink, or just buy something from their retail section, which will include curated goods made by local artists. The team also wants to celebrate holidays with special events.
One dish is called the Internet, a porky, beefy instant noodles dish. Sia calls it an Asian version of bolognese. Instant noodles are a favorite at night markets where vendors make amped-up versions of the college staple with ridiculous relishes. There’s also an open-faced roti sandwich with a Malay influence. The menu will start off modest and evolve depending on the demand. There will be eight cocktails on the bar menu. The drinks will be light and refreshing like a cucumber daiquiri. Sake, soju, wine, and beer will also be available. Food will also be available to go.
While night markets are popular in Asia, they exist all over the world thanks to immigrants. There’s a particularly large one outside of Vancouver, drawing 600 vendors most summer Saturdays. The markets are chaotic, where visitors are deluged by street food vendors — dumplings, noodles, skewers, and more — plus booths selling trinkets. There is a small night market held sporadically in Uptown off of Argyle, home to many Vietnamese restaurants. But that footprint is tiny compared to the type that draws global tourists.
For Sia, “Jook Sing” is a term of endearment, showing an outsider’s perspective to a culture in a similar way that chef Paul Virant used when he named his Japanese restaurant “Gaijin.” It’s a Cantonese term for a Chinese or Asian person raised in a Western country, having feet in multiple cultures but not belonging to a specific one. With Jook Sing, ownership wants to make sure everyone is welcome. Like the night markets that inspire it. Night markets often have entertainment attached. The team is working on what they will look like and what locals would want. Stay tuned.
Jook Sing, 1329 W. Chicago Avenue, scheduled for a September opening.