Mr. and Mr. and Mr. Smith: from left, Jason Normann, Tom MacDonald, and Jeremy Quinn
On the heels of the hotelier Ian Schrager’s announcement this week that the Ambassador East Hotel, once a celebrity playground, now will be called Public, we learned that the owners of Webster’s Wine Bar and The Bluebird have chosen a name for their soon-to-open Logan Square spot, further feeding this postrecession Everyman trend: Smith.
“Picking a name is so hard,” says Smith’s co-owner Tom MacDonald, who—along with his business partner, Jason Normann; their sommelier, Jeremy Quinn; and Smith’s executive chef, John Anderes (Avec)—considered “probably 1,000 different” options. “It’s almost like getting a tattoo. It’s permanent, and you want it to have meaning.” And though the most common surname in the United States certainly means something to the more than 2.3 million Americans who share it, MacDonald and Co. hope patrons will keep their meaning in mind: “I guess we’ve always gotten our hands dirtier, dug deeper,” MacDonald says. “It’s a craftsman approach, like a wordsmith. The idea of hands-on is important to us.”
Five other things the Smith team says will set their wine bar, located at 2601 North Milwaukee and slated for a June opening, apart:
1. Quinn’s wine list strictly hails from across the pond and includes older vintages by the half-bottle and a deep selection of so-called natural wines: “We want to showcase the sea change that’s been happening in Europe, where more vineyards have returned to traditional winemaking, natural products, and no chemical or sulfur additives,” Quinn says. Unlike the 500 options available at Webster’s, Smith’s list will take a less-is-more approach. “It’s tight—a word I’ve been using a lot lately,” MacDonald says.
2. The hiring of John Anderes away from the illustrious West Loop restaurant Avec means the menu will aim high, although MacDonald says dishes will be affordable enough to lure a neighborhood crowd. “Avec has always been one of my favorite places in the city, and Chef was ready to strike out with his own vision,” says MacDonald, who calls the menu “nouveau bistro”–style and (yes) “tight.” “Not many restaurants in this city have really made an effort to make sure everything in the glass is appropriate for everything on the plate, and that’s really our goal.”
3. Winemaker dinners and private parties frequently will occupy a 14-seat chef’s table in the back room, and Quinn will uncork large-format bottles for big groups to share.
4. Unlike the dim, deep rooms at Webster’s and The Bluebird, Smith’s main seating area is “two full storefronts, with tons of glass looking right out onto the pretty part of the square,” MacDonald says.
5. MacDonald, his wife, and their two children have been living in central Mexico for the past year, which inspired him to have all of Smith’s furniture made onsite there. Working from designs by the Chicago firm fcStudio, craftsmen hewed the bar stools, chairs, and table bases by hand from 200-year-old pine; the bar is constructed from a Mexican hardwood that’s similar to mahogany. “We filled a whole tractor-trailer and sent it up here,” MacDonald says.