Kevin Hickey, despite highfalutin resumé entries as the former chef of the four-star restaurant Seasons at the Four Seasons Hotel and its successor, Allium, as well as the current chef at the Rockit Ranch hothouse Bottlefork, is also Kevin from Bridgeport. And Kevin from Bridgeport will soon open the Duck Inn (2701 S. Eleanor St., 312-724-8811), a neighborhood-friendly spot on an out-of-the-way corner near the South Branch of the Chicago River.
Hickey bought the site of the former Gem Bar, so called because it was owned by the Gembara family for three generations. “I grew up on that street,” he says. “I knew the bar and I knew the family. I used to go there as a kid and play Asteroid on the Atari stand-up video game in the corner. It was very much a neighborhood tavern, when Bridgeport had a tavern on every corner.”
In the front area, the bar menu will include updates (with updated prices) on three items that appear in a photograph from the original Duck Inn, opened around 1935 at 35th and Ashland by Hickey’s great-grandmother:
- Hamburger sandwich 5¢
- Tom Tom tamale 5¢
- Hot dog 5¢
The bar will serve eight draft beers, some of which will be exclusive to Duck Inn, such as an apple ale in collaboration with Begyle Brewery and a Belgian-style brew with Une Année that will be called either Holiday Gravy or Chicken Gravy. “When we went there to brew with them, there was a chicken walking in and out of the brewery and into the alley,” Hickey says. Duck Inn will also collaborate with Haymarket Whiskey Bar in Louisville on a single-barrel concoction called Whistle Pig Rye.
In the 40-seat dining room, the short, seasonal menu will cover items along the lines of veal-stock-braised brisket with double-wide stuffed pappardelle and a tomato-based sauce like marinara. Rotisserie duck for two will be a house specialty, with a limited quantity available per night. Hickey will grow tomatoes in the back yard, and diners will have the opportunity to pick their own tomato for tomato salad for three or four weeks at the end of the summer. At a custom-designed “family table” near the kitchen, Hickey and his family will eat dinner every night before service begins. Customers can eat there after the Hickeys clear out.
For dessert, Hickey gives the example of apple-parsnip brown Betty with cider granitée and parsnip ice cream. “Keep it simple,” he says.
That’s simple? The corner tavern sure has come a long way in the past hundred years.