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Down the Rabbit Hole

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

By Emma Janzen
Photos courtesy of Rockit Ranch Productions

Despite how dressed up (or down) a restaurant might look on the inside, the heart and soul of the establishment is usually dictated by what goes on behind the scenes—in the kitchen.

Designer Bill Ewert and Rockit Ranch Productions aimed to bring the culinary action to the forefront of the design in their latest collaboration called Bottlefork. The restaurant and bar, located in Chicago’s River North neighborhood, offers modern American cuisine in an environment that’s down to earth and welcoming with fun, unexpected contemporary elements, like the giant rabbit adorning the wall.

“We designed Bottlefork to be a really warm and comforting space that embraces and makes the most of the intimacy of the venue,”  Billy Dec, CEO & Founder of Rockit Ranch Productions says. “We kept coming back to the idea of making a spot that mimics the feel of a dinner party in a chef’s home, where the action centers around the kitchen counter.”

One way the downtown operation achieved this goal was to keep the floor plan as open as possible, with a 40-foot-long seamless bar and kitchen area flanking one side of the room. The open work station presents an active focal point for the long, narrow space, helping customers feel “immersed and connected with what we’re doing,” Dec says.

Home-like vibes are present in other aspects of the dining room design as well. Dark wood and residential fabrics were used throughout the space and set a warm tone, and open shelves line the walls behind dining dining booths and the bar area, featuring wine, spirits, plates, glassware, and other culinary wares that the staff use on a regular basis—just as one might find in the chef’s kitchen. “We wanted functional shelving that would dominate the space and give it an extra layer of interest,” Dec says. “The shelves are utilitarian as well as functional.”

Moments of urban sophistication also appear at times in the otherwise soft space, like the striking teal light fixture that resembles a mess of tangled branches, and the giant wall-sized mural in the front room adds an element of funky fun to the mix. Dec brought in graffiti artist Erik DeBat to work on Rockit’s other projects The Underground and Ay Chiwowa before BottleFork. “With this mural we didn’t' want to get bogged down with any one look and wanted to show many different local food and drink images working well together in a super playful way that was original, edgy and intriguing.”

The sophisticated but quirky atmosphere is matched in the playfulness and creativity of the food and drink menu. Take for example, the Rich Man’s Po’Boy, a delectable treat of a sandwich featuring lobster, foie gras, and a fried oyster served on a chewy bun, or the Smoke of the Day cocktail, which leaves the ingredients up to smoke flavorings and bartender’s whimsy. Like the best restaurants, neither the food nor the design should stand alone, and luckily, Bottlefork’s got them both on lock.

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