The stars may be on the red carpet for the Academy Awards this weekend, but you’ll have the chance to do some star-gazing of your own at a number of new spots heating up the Windy City. The stars in question? Some of the town’s most flamboyant and talented restaurant/bar industry personalities, who get to shine — once again — in a Chicago weekend full of follow-up projects, a major “comeback” mission, and more.
Harry’s Velvet Room
No one is more excited about being back in the game than Dion Antic, who, in his heyday, owned more than 20 cocktail lounges and restaurants at a time. This month sees the reintroduction of the nightlife impresario’s Harry’s Velvet Room, an incredibly fly place to hang at 1480 West Webster Ave., for those looking for something beyond the usual bottle-service bars and high-concept cocktail lounges. This is Antic’s third iteration of Harry’s, but what sets this one apart is how instrumental he was in building it. It’s set up as the ultimate lothario’s lounge: Eclectic artwork, leather bookcases, and reclaimed light fixtures serve as prime focal points, while the beverage list highlights rare whiskeys and wines. The sounds, of course, set the scene with funk, soul, house, and exotic R&B. It officially opens February 27.
Speaking of groovy music, the reggae bouncing out of the speakers at Lost Lake, 3154 West Diversey Avenue, actually makes you feel as though you’ve stepped inside a hip, tropical paradise. Conceived by Paul McGee — who was also the brains behind Three Dots and a Dash — the tiki-focused tavern features a handful of island elixirs that are mostly original recipes. Lost Lake has been open for only several weeks, yet because of McGee’s stellar rep behind the bar, it’s already gained quite the loyal following even though he’s no longer in the highly trafficked River North neighborhood. Get a cocktail for yourself (the tequila-focused Hula Hips of Heaven or Bunny’s Banana Daiquiri) or share with friends (Tahitian Rum Punch or Lima Lima Scorpion Bowl), and settle into one of the seats — if you can arrive before they fill up.
Also new in town is Presidio, located at 1749 North Damen Ave., as the sort of cocktail-focused bar desperately needed in this stretch of Bucktown. It’s relaxed enough to pass for a neighborhood tavern, but just slick enough to attract a sophisticated crowd that would appreciate a Chicago weekend among the mixology talents of Alex Renshaw (formerly of Drumbar and Sable Kitchen & Bar). The super award-winning bartender creates unconventional drinks that are not only delightful to gaze upon, but also pretty good. Former Chicago Cut Steakhouse chef de cuisine, Shaun Connelly, helms the kitchen with New American cuisine.
Television personality/master sommelier, Alpana Singh, had an immediate hit on her hands with Boarding House, and she’s expecting history to repeat itself with the classic clubhouse-inspired Seven Lions at 130 South Michigan Ave. Expect this Loop-based restaurant to be very wine-focused — with a lot of input from Singh, of course. She will highlight more than 250 American wines at a range of prices. Also look forward to a well-rounded craft beer program, which promises an intriguing variety of American beers available on draft and by the bottle. Former Blue 13 chef Chris Curren’s fare pairs well with the beverages, and consists of new twists on classics: lobster Cobb salad, lamb ribs, duck club sandwich, and Dutch baby pancakes.
After leaving the legendary Charlie Trotter’s restaurant, Michael Taus made a name for himself in River North with the contemporary American- and French-focused upscale eatery, Zealous. And after 20 years of running that business, he shuttered it and consulted for a number of restaurants until the debut of Taus Authentic, at 1846 West Division St., earlier this month. While Wicker Park restaurant is much more casual than Zealous, it’s an opportunity for Taus to show off his fancy French pedigree in a more approachable manner. The bistro-inspired menu features quite a few stunners, from a foie gras club sandwich to fried chicken infused with lemon honey butter.