Brian O’Connor (Maple & Ash, RIA, North Pond) is putting down roots in the blossoming River North Gallery District with Bar Lupo (217 W. Huron St.), a modern pub targeting local crowds with Italian-American fare. Though starting this new gig entails walking away from his position as managing partner at Maple & Ash, O’Connor insists there are no hard feelings: “The only thing we’re concerned with is opening more great restaurants in Chicago.”

Brian O’Connor  Photo: Derek Richmond

Bar Lupo shoots to be River North’s go-to classic in the not-too-distant future. O’Connor expects to open by the end of the year in the space that was recently home to Oak + Char (shuttered last month). The neighborhood is certainly a safe bet: River North’s boom, according to O’Connor, will directly affect Lupo, with more than 3,000 new apartment units coming to the surrounding blocks in the next 18 months.

Bar Lupo will be ready for them: O’Connor plans for a hearty, affordable selection of house-made pastas, plus other traditional Italian-American dishes. The pastas will be the stars of the show, but O’Connor is also working on an extensive selection of sausages (also made in-house), cheeses, and other bar snacks. Liz Pearce (The Drifter, The Drawing Room) is plotting a cocktail selection inspired by Italian classics with the dessert menu following suit: cannoli, gelato, Italian ice, and, most importantly, great post-dinner coffee. It’s a menu, says O’Connor, defined by simplicity.

“Going out to dinner doesn’t need to be an event every single time,” he says. While the menu will feature a few pricier options, the pastas and sandwiches will skew affordable, “so you won’t have an excuse to not come back.”

The space will feature a mixture of vintage lounge furniture and modern décor, including space to display art from local and Italian artists. Also important to O’Connor: the noise level, which he says will be monitored for maximum comfort. “Sound should envelop you so you can enjoy it, but still hear the conversation,” he says. “We want rich and warm, not thumping and loud.” Music to our ears.