Last July when the partners behind Bonhomme Hospitality Group (Black Bull, Bordel, Beatnik, Celeste, DISCO, Café Bonhomme) debuted a seasonal outpost of Beatnik overlooking the South Branch of the Chicago River between Lake and Randolph streets, they were surprised by the crowds that swarmed their riverfront lounge.
If you’re Bonhomme’s Co-Founder and Managing Partner Daniel Alonso part of that challenge involves taking an entire 20-foot-by-20-foot Nashville jewelry store circa 1913 (original crystal chandeliers and sconces, mirror-clad bird’s eye maple interiors and all) and dropping it right in the middle of the Beatnik On The River’s new indoor space, formerly a sign shop. You then start incorporating details such as the pillow-topped Indonesian daybeds and position those in front of floor-to-ceiling windows offering the same river views as the outdoor space downstairs. Add in the opulence of Moorish architecture and the tropical lushness of Bali again brought to life with Persian rugs, Moroccan lanterns, hand-painted glazed tiles and lush green plants throughout and it’s apparent the restaurant/lounge’s riverfront patio will soon have some major competition.
From the beginning, a brick-and-mortar space for Beatnik On The River was part of the agenda, but when the wait for the neighboring space to become available got extended, the Bonhomme partners opted to open the riverfront patio with guests entering through Café Bonhomme, the group’s Parisian-style café next door, before heading downstairs to the outdoor area.
Since closing the riverfront patio in October of last year for the season, they’ve been very busy with construction on the indoor space, which now includes its own entrance. When the riverfront patio returns again this spring, it will debut a canopy to protect guests from inclement weather, hopefully extending its season for both opening and closing months. Out front on the Wacker Drive sidewalk, a 100-foot-long patio will offer seating for both Café Bonhomme and BOTR, the former to include furniture inspired by classic Parisian cafés, the latter decked out with sofas and daybeds. But no matter where guests sit, they’ll be able to take in downtown Chicago views of Wacker Drive, the Lake Street bridge and the nearby Merchandise Mart.
When guests enter BOTR’s new front door (located immediately to the north of Café Bonhomme), they’ll first encounter the main bar, a jewel itself, clad in hand-painted glazed tiles — set in patterns inspired by the interior courtyards of Andalusia — and featuring more one-of-a-kind historical elements in the form of two massive futuristic vintage light fixture from the 1950s and a brass back bar created by repurposing a vintage bakery rack from a Paris patisserie. As interesting as those elements are, however, it will be hard not to focus on the bold Pucci-inspired wallpaper created by local visual artist and longtime Bonhomme collaborator Erik DeBat encasing the jewelry store.
That is, until guests enter the jewelry store space itself, which has been lovingly restored and put back together by a local master carpenter piece by piece. Essentially a hall of mirrors with recessed mirrored niches and sliding-door cabinets once used for jewelry display and storage, the space includes pink velvet-topped benches on each side of a 16-foot French draper’s table with eight turned legs, three drawers and a lower shelf down the middle, providing a perfect spot for the casual consumption of cocktails and wine — and, most likely, mirror-reflected selfies — whether or not guests are waiting for a dining table. “From a design standpoint, I think it’s essential to bring something historical and monumental to everything we do,” says Alonso, who’s always on the hunt for interesting one-of-a-kind historical pieces and constantly thinking of how to curate and compose spaces with his new-found treasures. “Everywhere you look here, you’re constantly surprised.”
BEATNIK ON THE RIVER 2.0
For Alonso and his partners finding a space in the Loop for their newest project, eschewing the hyper-popular West Loop not far away, was crucial. Also important was acquiring a location on the river. “Throughout human history, civilizations have always sought out rivers. When you look at most global cities, whether it’s Amsterdam, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, London or Sevilla, their riverfronts not only played a fundamental role during their industrializations, but, perhaps more importantly, during their social and cultural development. In the same spirit, we were actively looking for a location that allowed us to take part in the energy that will doubtlessly play a major role in the future of the city of Chicago,” says Alonso. “There’s a human need to look at water even if it’s frozen over.”
If there was ever any doubt, through last summer’s opening of BOTR’s riverfront patio, the partners quickly learned that many of their friends and acquaintances worked in the Loop and those who don’t are willing to come into the area. “It was a real pleasant reminder for us that the Loop remains the number one employer in the city,” says Alonso.
TAPPING INTO THE SENSES
The menus at BOTR will include many of the dishes offered during dinner and brunch at Beatnik in West Town with a few additions to accommodate the rhythms of lunch and after-work guests. Executive Chef Marcos Campos, who also heads up the kitchen at Black Bull, takes a similar globe-trotting approach as the interior design, blending flavors and ingredients from Asia, Mexico, the Middle East and South America for the small plates (mezze) and family-style dishes (The Feast). Like the food, cocktails change seasonally and tap into ingredients ranging from Ceylon cinnamon to Szechuan-chipotle honey.
The sounds of BOTR mirror the space, with influences arriving from all corners of the globe. Reggae, Afrobeat and Middle Eastern Classic Rock weave easily with Brazilian Soul and ‘60s French Pop.
With that in mind, both Beatnik On The River and Café Bonhomme will be open for lunch Monday through Friday, and additionally, BOTR will be open for dinner service on Saturdays.
“Whenever people look left, we tend to look right,” says Alonso of Bonhomme’s entrepreneurial style. “If guests choose to spend their hard-earned money with us, the least we can do is to appeal to as many of their senses as possible.”