The now-decorative vault inside The Bedford
The vault, with renovations underway

Finally! Instead of saddling another major intersection with a blank-faced bank, someone’s taking a stand and opening a bar. Well, a bar inside an old bank. 

The brother/sister development team of Eric and Anne Nordness and their partner, Matthew Mering, all of Salita Development, took me on a tour yesterday of their new Wicker Park venture-in-progress, The Bedford, located in the basement of the historic Home Bank & Trust building, on the northwest corner of Ashland and Division. Their concept: a neighborhood bar and kitchen where “the Wicker Park artists community will feel at home” (i.e., no VIP areas or bottle service); target opening: early May. In the meantime, five facts to whet your whistle:

1. The bar is named after the Bedford, Indiana, limestone used to construct the 1920s-era building. (That aging fallout-shelter sign hanging in the back stairwell? It’s not for effect—it’s for real.)

A variety of chandeliers in the women's restroom
A cluster of chandeliers hangs in the lounge area of the women’s restroom.

2. Prior to this endeavor, Salita had stuck to the hotel biz; they opened the Sheraton Northbrook and have a hotel planned for the Clybourn corridor. For their first nightlife project, they’ve hired two pros to help run the place: the mixologist Pete Gugni (formerly of Reserve and Crescendo, Gugni left a gig with Bacardi in San Francisco to take this job) and the chef Mark Steuer (The Gage, Hot Chocolate). Gugni says the drink list will be evenly split between beer, wine, and cocktails, with a strong Midwestern focus; every beer on tap will come from the region.

3. As soon as The Bedford opens (or sooner), everyone’s going to be throwing around words like “speakeasy” and “gangster”—the thought of which makes Eric quake in his boots a little. “That’s really not what we want it to be like,” he says. Yes, they’re using lots of materials repurposed from various parts of the building: marble from the original bank counters, teller cages as light fixtures; wood partitions that once protected bank clients’ privacy now serve as stalls in the ladies’ room. “But there are other things going on with the colors, textures, and art installations. We still want it to feel relevant to Wicker Park today.”

Mailboxes line the walls in The Bedford
A two-ton wall of safety deposit boxes lines a row of booths.

4. A few digits: Including the kitchen, the total floor space is 9,000 square feet; capacity will be around 200. A wall of safety deposit boxes behind a row of booths for large parties weighs—wait for it—two tons.

5. Drinkers will be able to lounge in the old bank vault—a very large, highly secure-looking room also home to hundreds of safety deposit boxes. Thanks to its huge, circular steel door, it will no doubt be The Bedford’s most-photographed feature. With the buzz this place is already drumming up, we expect to see it often.