For 15 years, The Long Room was a cozy tavern in Chicago’s Ravenswood community. Now the neighborhood bar is making strong strides into the food and coffee scene with an unusual service model.
Within The Long Room, a concession window named Sidecar at LR will serve up breakfast, lunch, dinner, and late-night snacks from two new quick-service concepts.
Co-owner Jason Burrell says that back in 2000 when The Long Room was founded, “getting a tavern license was like getting gold,” in Chicago. The bar championed craft beer in a welcoming, neighborhood vibe. In the intervening years, Burrell and co-owner Clark Fowler noticed that attitudes toward food were shifting. People used to eat dinner, go home, and then go to the tavern, but Burrell says they were eschewing from the standard dayparts.
“Over time we realized … that times are changing and that food was being elevated in bars,” Burrell says. The two partners discussed expanding their business to include food, and a trip to Austin, Texas, where a number of bars boasted food trucks on their lawns, cemented the idea.
Burrell and Fowler decided to bring that symbiotic relationship inside. Since 2001 they had owned the unit next door, which was once a restaurant under the previous owner but had become administrative offices for the tavern. By carving out part of that space and building a concession window to connect the two, Sidecar at LR was born.
“It’s almost like an open market kind of feel,” Burrell says. At first he worried the mixed concepts would lead to clumsy operations or that guests would be hesitant. “It so far has really worked well. … I think people are really into it because it’s a different way to get it done. It has a casual feel to it.”
During morning and lunch hours, chef Zeeshan Shah operates his concept Biscuit Man within Sidecar at LR. The breakfast offerings include baked goods like muffins and scones, as well as biscuit sandwiches. At lunch, Shah and his team serve up “naanwiches” and rice bowls.
To boost The Long Room and Sidecar at LR’s profile as a destination for early dayparts, the tavern added coffee to its operation with drip coffee makers, espresso machines, and grinders nestled at the end of the back bar. Brightening touches such as a small stained glass window and a vase of flowers, as well as free WiFi invite morning and afternoon patrons to linger.
“[We’re] making it feel more like a neighborhood coffee shop in the morning and then at night when we transform back. All that we’re doing is taking away some of those smaller details to get back to our tavern image at nighttime,” Burrell says.
Around 5 p.m., chefs Kyle Schrage and Jim Torres take over with their concept Beard & Belly, which specializes in hearty gastropub fare such as the “Poutinewich,” a vegetarian muffaletta, and burgers with Butterkäse cheese. Burrell says that they’ve floated the idea of doing special pairing nights Beard & Belly. For example, a Belgian beer night at The Long Room would be wonderfully complemented by a pot of Belgian mussels.
Along this same vein, chef Shah is helping the owners develop a guest chef series, or “playful culinary experiments,” for Sundays when the Long Room is open but Biscuit Man and Beard & Belly are closed. Burrell says that it would give new chefs the opportunity to be creative and test their own concepts.
“Taking a break to go do your own food somewhere in a very fun bar environment where you can invite your own people and put it on your social media and also combine with our efforts at the Long Room to promote and get our customers involved—it just seems like a fun idea,” Burrell says.
By Nicole Duncan
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