When I first walked in to Green Street Smoked Meats, I remember telling owner Brendan Sodikoff to fuck off. Advertisements
A vision of bro-bar bottle service is not the reverie chef Stephen Gillanders is trying to invoke with the name of his new Pilsen restaurant, S.K.Y.. Rather, the name is a sweet commemoration of his wife, Seon Kyung Yuk’s initials. But, it is hard for me not to hear S.K.Y. and think of the cerulean-colored Skyy vodka bottle, a 1990s-era talisman for things like blue-shirted consultants booty shaking to the former Fresh Prince of Bel Air’s #1 hit “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It”.
I felt like I’d walked into the secret love nest of Hugh Hefner and a crazy old bird lady. I know that sounds crazy. Like why would Hefner shack up with a bird lady? But, the dude loved quaaludes, so anything is possible. And even if he never did, Bellemore restaurant’s interior design looks like what would have happened if he had.
On the weekends, when the bankers flee to the ’burbs, filching swigs of liquor on the Metra, the LaSalle Street canyon goes dark. The corridor between Jackson Boulevard and Madison Street becomes a lonely hearts club, inhabited by scant hotel dwellers and a few stragglers purged from revelry at The Berghoff or Miller’s Pub. It’s precisely the kind of noir landscape you’d expect Batman might perch above on a skyscraper cornice, contemplating his existential doom.
Not so long ago, the West Loop was known as one of America’s most notorious skid rows. Madison Street west of the Kennedy was a maleficent mile of burlesques, flop houses and sleazy taverns. I moved to the neighborhood in 2003 into a building that held an annual progressive Christmas party called The Taste of Skid Row.
In the last few years, “dad rock” has been used as pejorative shorthand for critics to dismiss bands or music of a certain ilk. Such music is usually plaintive, nostalgic, seemingly simplistic, maudlin or sometimes just fringe complex and weird.
Pepe Barajas, chef/owner of La Josie, a new upscale Mexican restaurant in the West Loop, was practically born into the hospitality game. As a little kid in the ’80s, he was popping the tops off Jarritos and Coke for patrons at his grandfather’s Mexico City taco stand. When he was 7, he immigrated to Chicago and watched his single mother waitress for her brother, founder of the local Los Comales chain of restaurants. Seeing her struggle financially, Barajas dropped out of high school and helped his mom open her own taqueria, Los Comales No. 8.
Like George Clooney, cocktails get better with age.
4 Star Restaurant Group (Dunlay’s, Smoke Daddy, Crosby’s Kitchen, Tuco & Blondie, Frasca, The Windsor, Remington’s, D.O.C. Wine Bar) always seemed like an aspirational name. They purvey solid American neighborhood fare like roast chicken, BBQ and burgers, but I’ve never seen 4 Star as a gourmet destination restaurant group. If I was going to see a flick at the Music Box, I’d stop in at Crosby’s Kitchen for the tasty chicken and biscuits, but I wouldn’t make an appointment just to dine. Their newest spot, Ella Elli, seems poised to change that notion
Ronero, a new Latin American/Cuban restaurant in the West Loop, is the kind of place where I’d imagine dictators or Scarface spending a night away from the rigors of managing a cartel. You could easily picture Fidel Castro hunkered down in one of the rattan peacock chairs, smoking a Cohiba and regarding the glass chandeliers while stroking the straggly tendrils of his prodigious beard.