Joe Meisel III, designer of Spiaggia, other restaurants, dead at 75

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Joe Meisel III designed restaurants in Chicago including Spiaggia, Bistro 110, Chestnut Street Grill and Hillary’s

Some people might be a little intimidated at the idea of working with a couple of clients named Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg.

NotJoe Meisel, the Chicago architect and designer who created elegant Chicago restaurants including Spiaggia, Bistro 110, Chestnut Street Grill and Hillary’s.

“Not at all,” said his wife, Linda. “He really enjoyed creative minds. They were so creative that they were really, really fun to work with.”

Mr. Meisel consulted with Spielberg and fellow DreamWorks founder and former Disney chief Katzenberg on their Los Angeles submarine sandwich eatery Dive, which featured a yellow submarine protruding through a restaurant wall, a periscope and simulated “dives” accompanied by alarms and bubbling water.

Mr. Meisel, 75, died Thursday of kidney cancer. He had fought through leukemia several years ago and had received a bone-marrow transplant in 2012, according to Linda Meisel, his wife of 53 years.

His family knew he probably wasn’t going to be around long enough to see whether the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup. So relatives presented him with an early Father’s Day gift: a Blackhawks jersey with the name his grandsons called him: “Pawpaw.” It bore the number “39” — for the year he was born.

“You felt good in his places,” said Mark Levy, the CEO of Mastro’s steakhouse chain, who worked with Mr. Meisel when he and his brother, Larry Levy, operated Levy Restaurants. “You felt like they were the places to be.”

“When we told him that Spiaggia had to bethe place for the most important events in Chicago to be celebrated, he really made it that,’’ said Larry Levy, managing partner of Levy Family Partners. “And, he respected the vision of the exterior building that [architect] Bruce Graham delivered, and it was almost like a collaboration.”

With Hillary’s, “We said this has to be the place where people will go to meet, celebrate, meet people of the opposite sex,” Levy said. “Chestnut Street Grill, we wanted it to feel like it had been there for 100 years and where you wanted to drink a bottle of white wine and eat the most exquisite fresh fish. Bistro 110, we almost created a mythology, that it was almost a zinc bar, and they added another room and another room. . . . He had the 3D vision of what the story should look like.”

The Levyseven consulted Mr. Meisel about the style of staff uniforms.

Spiaggia has been refurbished since it opened 30 years ago, but Mr. Meisel’s work on the restaurant was sophisticated and comfortable, Mark Levy said.

“It was a traditional look in a very unique architectural structure because of the way it faced the lake and its setting along the lake,” he said. “You had views from many different parts of the restaurant, and yet it was a very soft, sophisticated presentation. He picked colors and furniture. It was soft tones, earth tones. Everything was subtle but classy.”

Mr. Meisel grew up near St. Louis and attended Washington University, where he met his future wife. He studied urban planning at the University of Chicago.

He came to Chicago in large part to work with Harry Weese, the architect who designed Washington’s Metro system, created the Metropolitan Correctional Center and renovated the Auditorium Theatre and the Field Museum. After several years with Weese’s firm, Mr. Meisel struck out on his own.

The Meisels enjoyed living in a Lincoln Park home built in 1886 that glowed with warm wood and stained glass.

Mr. Meisel’s work with the Mid-North Association helped preserve other vintage homes.

“My husband took care of the house so well that when we moved nine months ago, the inspector said that he’d never seen an old house in such good shape,” his wife said.

She said he was delighted when they moved to a building designed by architect Lucien Lagrange at 2550 N. Lakeview Ave.

Informal and approachable, he could often be seen biking around Chicago. In the winter, he wore flannel-lined Carhartt jeans. At one point, he had two “really, really good bicycles,” his wife said. “One got stolen right in front of City Hall, and one got stolen right off of Wabash.” After that, his bikes were modest.

Mr. Meisel had a favorite Persian-mix cat named Huckleberry, with whom he shared his sushi. He also rescued a kitten from a Dayton Street home he was renovating for a client, and gave it to his son, who named the chocolate-colored feline “Mousse.”

He is survived by sons Joe and Chris, siblings Pat, Mary and David and two grandsons. Services are planned for 11 a.m. June 19 at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago.

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