Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Pig, Goat & Oysters in Chicago

Our time at Chicago's Neocon 2012 last week was equal parts exploration of product design and restaurant design. My dogs may be barking, but the many miles trekked in the Merchandise Mart and on the streets of Chicago were well worth my sore muscles today.

the Publican
Sunday brunch... our chance to observe the dominant, racetrack communal table seating up to 100 people. Our clients either love or hate the idea of communal seating, but as popular as the Publican continues to be, Chicago seems to have embraced it.  The high back chairs and the pure volume of noise seem to be key.  The ladder back provides seated privacy, a psychological barrier between you and the patron who may be standing... waiting... just behind you.  The noise allows you to carry on a conversation with your group and not necessarily hear every detail of your neighbor's.

We enjoyed hanging at the 3-tier, pub-style banquet table stands at the center of the restaurant... purse hooks included :). We were impressed at how much floor space was dedicated to standing tables with no seats, but it provides a comfortable space to wait in this "No Reservations" joint.  And, it wouldn't hurt to grab a beer and first course plate. The restrooms are communal as well, 5 single stalls with an adjacent bird bath sink.

GT Fish & Oyster Bar
Only a few blocks north of the Merchandise Mart, we strolled over for lunch on Monday. This was my favorite meal of our trip, which may not be fair since seafood is my true love.  The design combines both traditional and non-traditional elements (inspired by the chef's approach to the menu). The design uses details of rustic fisherman nets, anchors, and materials evoking the feel of cottages or boat decks. We appreciated the high contrast palette of warm, light greys with black, the boomerang communal table (yacht-like) transitioning the bar to the dining area, the fish mural above the banquette looks as good in person as in photos, the brass table corner guards, the placement of mirrors, black venetian plaster in the bathrooms, mosaic tile flooring in the bar area  . The service was impecable and perfectly timed.

The Girl & the Goat
We showed up at 5PM, hoping for one of the coveted walk-in tables.  We lucked out with a 2-top bordering the bar and facing the super long expo line with chef tables. Perfect. Our server was also perfect, guiding us through our first goat selections. The chairs and pendant lights we've seen before, but the fire-screen back bar is just as cool in person, as is the long expo line anchored by (2) 2-top date tables- ON THE LINE.  That is one of the best "special occasion tables" we've seen. There were many thoughtful details such as ledges holding a water carafe & menus at the table. 

I still remember my first visit to Blackbird. There was little to see in that part of Chicago, and you worried the cab driver was taking you to a back alley... and he wasn't coming back. Fastforward more than 10 years and it's one of the coolest areas of Chicago with restaurants from top chefs and taxis looping the streets. avec has long been admired by our clients and by our studio for it's simple design.  We stopped by post-dinner and were lucky to grab a few seats at the bar.  Everything is wood in this simple, rectangular box: wood stools, wood tables, and wood benches.  Only the bar counter is stainless steel and the wall of green bottles screening the restrooms. The scale and intimacy reminded me more of a NYC shotgun floor plan... maximizing every nook and cranny. With a space so efficient, it's no surprise they take a straight-forward approach to service and hospitality.  Get in. Eat. Get out.  Luckily, we struck up a conversation with another guest at the bar to soften some of the hard edges.

violet hour
Ahhh, the speakeasy.  We just finished one, Eleanor's, tucked in the back of Muss & Turner's dining room through a door that looks like it's to a walk-in cooler.  Violet hour is disguised by an ever-changing mural painted across the front of the building and entry door.  We only knew the address because of Jess, the super cool server at Girl & the Goat that told us to go.  Just through the door is the holding area, someone's gotta come out before you can go in.  It's a surprisingly large space, over 150 seats at bar & lounge, but the floor to ceiling heavy drapes divide the volume into intimate areas.  And, of course, very little lighting other than candles.
Check out the House Rules:
Cell phones aren't aloud, so I had to snag these images online.

bar runs along side wall between drapery panels- see above pic
This is the current mural. We walked through door by whale's mouth.

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