Slip Through the 'SideDoor' of the Famous McCormick Mansion Turned Gastropub

Once the home to the legendary Kungsholm Puppet Theater and a familiar landmark as Lawry’s steak house, the 19th century River North manse launches a new dining spot with a vintage-meets-modern vibe.

Photo by: SideDoor Main Dining Room of the renovated 1890s McCormick Mansion converted into SideDoor, a gastropub in booming River North. Signature accents blend and mesh in the old and new ensemble. A focal point of the design is the open display kitchen with its nine foot long copper grill hood. Not show in this image, but there's a vintage Harkerware plate collage, circa 1800s oil portraits and an unusual illuminated antique tortoise shell as part of the decor. 

Is River North Chicago’s mini boom town? Could be, as this once down-on-its-luck pocket is having a bull market revival. In the last year a trio of mega hotel chains got all gussied up to party with tourists and locals (Alderman Brendan Reilly of the 42nd Ward likes all this new money flushing out the area's gnarly reputation). Beatrix, a bewitching little tart of a restaurant, puckered up a big old-fashioned smooch of Indian ice cream and homemade turkey meatloaf. And big bad AMLI cut the opening day ribbon for its apartment building, seeing demand from the hoard of urban professional singles that wanted to live large and knock out their laundry en suite as a market to tap.

Photo by: SideDoor Detail of chandeliers at historic Chicago McCormick Mansion turned gastropub SideDoor. A 10-seat pewter bar, rich brown, coppers, and champagne colors create a warm, sophisticated tone. The designers incorporate a pheasant print wallpaper in rust-orange hues by Scottish design studio Timorous Beasties. And in the spirit of preservation, four antique French gilt bronze and crystal wall sconces, part of the building's history for over 70 years, were rescued. 

Add these renewed restaurant vows into the glittery circle of “ain’t we just fine.”  

Lawry's The Prime Rib, that big honking building off Ontario and Rush Streets, has a fresh face as companion:  SideDoor, the new gastropub lives inside the same building, one layered with Chicago history. As an extension of the prime rib haven, the designers have invigorated the new space with original artifacts, all the while bringing a burst of modern flavor to the Edwardian rooms and bar. 

To refashion with an eye on the past and contemporary sensibility can be one of those design school practical jokes. Here’s how they solved the dilemma of paring the authentic with the inventive: They salvaged the restaurant's original chairs and repurposed tables of American white oak and kept the signature influence of the existing millwork. According to design team Aria Group Architects, the firm maintained “several antique artifacts and three decorative stone columns that framed the exterior windows of the mansion in the late 1800s.” And, delightfully, the stained glass windows that were part of the décor from the Kungsholm Puppet Theater are here, in-tact. 

Photo via: SideDoor Exterior of McCormick Mansion, circa 1890s. L. Hamilton McCormick and wife Constance Plummer commissioned the opulent four-story home, replete with a formal ballroom that would overflow with 400 people. The building's lineage has many pivots and transformations, from the Continental Casino nightclub in the 1930s to a restaurant, the Kungsholm, which later housed the Kungsholm Puppet Theater. Starting in 1945, Chez Paul restaurant was the rage and glory. Decades later, the mansion became home of Lawry's The Prime Rib in 1974.

A little trivia for the natives and lookie loos: The architecture firm of Cowles and Ohrenstein designed the four-story, 1890s Italian Renaissance-style McCormick Mansion. It’s one of several homes the wealthy clan built around Chicago: R.H. Hall (1847-1917), nephew of Cyrus McCormick, commissioned Fredrick and Edward Baumann to build a three-story Gold Coast manse on Rush Street to house his extensive art collection. 

As to the food and libations, you'll have to taste those renovations. 

SideDoor, located at 100 East Ontario St. Telephone: 312-787-6768

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