“Everyone has a story about that space.”
That’s how Paul Goldstein summarizes people’s reactions to his mention of the iconic, 126-year-old building that sits on the corner of Dearborn and Ontario, which has previously housed trendy (and not so trendy) nightclubs, from Castle to Excalibur.
Goldstein is a partner of Tao Group, the uber-successful clubstaurant company that is gearing up to open an extravagant destination in the granite-clad structure. Given that a certain generation of Chicagoans engaged in much debauchery there, the property is a fitting home for this new venture.
The group likes to fill vacant but storied buildings with new life (Tao Uptown in New York, for one, is in a former movie theater that was originally built as stables for the Vanderbilt family). The Chicago property, landmarked in 1997, exemplifies this affinity. Tao has restored the entire building, embarking on an extensive gut rehab. Workers have removed most of the interior floors to create a dramatic 34,000-square-foot restaurant and nightclub with soaring ceilings, akin to Tao Group’s other glamorous venues in New York, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles.
Filled with Asian art and antiques, the new Tao Chicago will be a hopping, see-and-be-seen spot. Its chefs will prepare dishes representing a variety of East Asian and Southeast Asian cuisines, including Chinese, Japanese, and Thai (don’t use the word “fusion” to describe this; executive chef Mike Armstrong hates it). The menu will incorporate favorites from other Tao locations: the decadent tuna Pringle, for instance, a chip-shaped wonton draped with thinly sliced premium tuna, heirloom tomato, and truffle, is coming over from LA. But it will also feature new dishes unique to Chicago, like a kampachi sashimi served with fried olives, pea shoots, and a hajikami vinaigrette. Tao Chicago will also offer an expanded selection of steaks because, as Goldstein puts it, “the clientele here is more meat-focused.”
Tao Chicago is preparing to open in late September. A tip: if you venture in early, you’ll be rewarded with 20 percent off everything for the first two weeks.
Only time will tell if Chicago will embrace this massive clubstaurant, but Tao Group is doing its best to make the space feel like a genuine part of this city. Its partners have spent months eating at local restaurants, observing what works here (approachable but impeccable service, complicated and challenging food) and what doesn’t (anything that seems too exclusive).
As a result, Chicago will have a slightly different feel than Tao’s New York and LA locations. As Goldstein says, “LA and New York are sometimes more 'velvet rope,' more difficult to get in, but we think in Chicago, it’s important to be inclusive, to be part of things. There are no VIP rooms, there is no behind the curtains.”
It’s hard to imagine that getting a reservation at Tao will be easy, but at least you probably won’t have to bribe the bouncer to make it inside.