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What DMK Is Planning for Tony Hu’s Former Lao 18 Space

The food in the new River North space will be inexpensive, and not Chinese—but a new interview with the principals leaves the other details up in the air.

DMK’s David Morton and Michael Kornick   Photo: Lindsey Becker

DMK Restaurants has chosen not to locate its restaurants in the Randolph Streets of Chicago. “We usually don’t go into the epicenter of the action,” says David Morton, a co-owner of the group, along with the chef Michael Kornick. Their current stable covers areas such as Lake View (DMK Burger Bar, Fish Bar), Evanston (DMK Burger & Fish), Taylor Street (County Barbeque), and the middle of nowhere (Ada St.). In June, they hope to jump into the beehive of River North at 14 West Hubbard Street, on a competitive block that already houses Rockit, Vermilion, Centro Ristorante, and Ruth’s Chris.

The restaurateur Tony Hu, whose Chinatown-centric Lao chain has planted outposts in Uptown and Downers Grove in recent years, operated Lao 18 in the Hubbard Street building for about six months last year. He approached DMK about partnering in the 8,000-square-foot space.

The project will consist of two concepts, a “lunch and dinner bar” on the ground floor, and a late-night spot on the lower level, taking advantage of the 4 a.m. 2 a.m. license. They haven’t picked names or cuisines yet—although Asian has been ruled out—but they have selected a philosophy. “We want to bring something that is the best of who we are: chef-driven and really inexpensive,” Morton says. The beverage guru Michael Rubel (the Violet Hour, Big Star, Billy Sunday), a new hire at DMK, will design the bar program.

Morton’s claim that they don’t usually go into the epicenter of the action seems true only in the most literal sense. Given the usual Russian-novel-length wait at DMK Burger Bar, the epicenter arrives shortly after the restaurant does.

Update: An earlier version of this post said the project would have a 4 a.m. liquor license—they’re actually planning for a 2 a.m. license. We regret the error.

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