It takes more than a good cook to open a restaurant — although it should have that too. Grid breaks down what it really takes to get the doors open.
When word got out that two Violet Hour veterans were setting out on their own, cocktails were a given. But a dance floor? That’s taking mixologist to the extreme.
Henry Prendergast and Robert Haynes spent six years behind the bar at The Violet Hour in Wicker Park. Now they’re joining forces with Scott Crawford, a former consultant with Boston Consulting Group and Violet Hour regular, and ex-Flipside Cafe chef Alfredo Nogueira to launch Analogue. The cocktail lounge and regional Cajun restaurant — plus dance floor — is set to open next month along a burgeoning stretch of Milwaukee Avenue.
“The environment that we want to create is definitely a lot looser, a little rowdier, and to some extent, a little more chaotic and high energy than you would find in a restaurant or a bar that’s going to do food and cocktails of the caliber that we are,” Haynes says.
The easiest decision was location. “We only looked in Logan Square,” Haynes says. “There’s a culture and kind of a personality to this neighborhood that we are a part of and that we really strongly connect with.” But it took a year before the group found the right spot, a small space next to the Milshire Hotel that used to be a Mexican seafood restaurant.
Crawford and his wife (who is also a partner on the project) bought the two-story building for $400,000 and leased out the first floor to Analogue. At 1,000 square feet, the restaurant is small, but that was part of the plan.
“Our whole budget is like — let’s just say it’s barely six figures,” Crawford says. “There is a consequence to us saying, ‘Let’s just do it ourselves — let’s not go get a big group and see what happens.’”
The restaurant will serve Nogueira’s regional take on Cajun food, substituting local ingredients like lake fish, with the small plates and entrees ranging from $7 to $14.
Still, Cajun food can be risky here, says Mario Ponce, a principal with restaurant consulting group Partners in Hospitality. “Think of all the Cajun restaurants in Chicago that have done well. Not many,” he says. “Heaven on Seven is about it that has had some sort of effect on the marketplace. Everyone else has failed miserably.”
With two Violet Hour vets heading up Analogue, great cocktails are a must. Prices will run $5 to $11, and the plans are to keep the drink list short and change it often. There will also be a small beer list that includes purls, or bittered beers.
Prendergast says that the space is a combination of all of their personalities, rather than a strict concept. “I think there’s a little too much of that, I think that’s what’s kind of missing is everything is too conceptualized and too thought out,” he says.
But Ponce says that they’re taking a risk by not aligning themselves with a concept. “If they’re not going to be conceptual, then what are your strong points? Oh, they’re going to do craft cocktails? OK, like everyone else?”
The owners will be putting together playlists during the week and bringing in DJs on Friday and Saturday nights. As for the dance floor, Crawford admits that it’ll be an experiment. “We’re going to learn fast and learn hard on that,” he says. “Because we haven’t had people in there yet to figure out how it’s going to work.”
ABOVE: Henry Prendergast, Alfredo Nogueira and Robert Haynes. Photo by Heath Sharp