LOGAN SQUARE — The Whale, a new restaurant/bar mixing 1940s and ’50s “high roller casino culture” with elements of a traditional sports bar, is set to open on Logan Square’s Milwaukee Avenue July 5, according to owner Ryan Marks.
It’s been a long and arduous road for Marks and his partners, who operate under the group Legacy Hospitality. They bought the corner building at 2427 N. Milwaukee Ave. a little more than a year ago, but ended up hitting a bunch of construction and permitting snags along the way.
“I’ve done a lot of projects, a lot of difficult things in my career, but this is — by far – the hardest thing we’ve ever done,” Marks said.
Marks pointed to a recent snafu with People’s Gas as one of the most frustrating. The gas company was supposed to start gas service and install a new meter, but because of permitting issues, the project kept getting pushed back, he said. Marks also had trouble getting ahold of anyone at the company to fix the issue.
The ordeal, which lasted a few months, cost him and his partners “tens of thousands of dollars” in lost revenue, he said. People’s Gas didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
With the headaches behind them, Marks and his partners can finally focus on opening The Whale, a sister restaurant/bar to their Old Town sports bar The Vig, also a 1950s casino-themed sports bar.
The Whale, they said, is a “gambler who consistently wagers large amounts of money,” while The Vig, short for the slang word vigorish, is “the bookie’s or house’s cut on a bet.”
“The Vig is the dark side of gambling — it’s the illegal side. The Whale is the glamorous side, 007 walking in with the boats high. It’s the ’40s and ’50s when Vegas was exploding, when Monte Carlo was exploding,” Marks said.
Marks got his love of 1940s and ’50s gambling culture from his dad. Growing up in Texas and Tennessee, Marks would travel with his dad to Las Vegas to gamble.
“On my 21st birthday, [my dad] took me to Vegas. We just enjoy it — it’s fun. It’s a connection my dad and I have always had,” Marks said.
Like The Vig, which opened about three years ago, The Whale is a love letter to the gambling culture Marks grew up admiring. The bar is outfitted with vintage photographs, opulent chandeliers, plush seating and gold accents galore.
The Whale, which offers about 200 seats inside and dozens more outside, is also part sports bar with flatscreen TVs everywhere you look — the booths in front each have two.
But the TVs will only be on for big sports games, Marks said. His team made it so the TVs can be converted into mirrors or artwork when they’re not in use.
“We want to be sports accessible, and we want to be TV accessible, but we don’t want to be the sports bar where TVs are everywhere,” Marks said. “We don’t turn them on just to fill content. You could walk in and never know they’re there.”
Still, TVs are what inspired Marks to open The Vig and The Whale in the first place.
Marks remembers having an epiphany about five years ago at a Lincoln Park burger bar. He said he asked the person behind the bar to turn on the NBA finals, and, after some false hope, he was told, “That really messes with our ambiance.”
It was then that Marks realized “Chicago needs a place for the generation that enjoys sports bars but is getting older, starting to make a little more money, wants to be able to sit in a great environment, eat great food and have an expensive glass of wine or nice craft beer,” he said.
“And if they want to watch the game, they can watch the game, but it doesn’t need to intrude on everyone else.”
The food and drink menus at The Whale are vast — and diverse.
For brunch, patrons can expect dishes like lobster and waffles and trout schnitzel, as well as an array of brunch cocktails, including 100-ounce towers of mimosas, bellinis or sangrias meant to be shared among a group.
Among the dinner offerings are Korean glazed short ribs, Sicilian crab cakes and The Vig burger. The dishes can be paired with wine by the glass, beer in cans and bottles or craft cocktails, including frozen ones.
Marks said they’ll only be allowing two modifications to each dish and there won’t be a kids menu, though kids are welcome.
The larger idea, Marks said, is to “bring back the art of conversation” in keeping with simpler times.
“We try not to have a lot of distractions — and any distractions are meant to be conversation pieces,” he said.
The plan wasn’t always to open The Whale in Logan Square.
Marks said his team was originally looking at opening in the West Loop but the “real estate market was too ridiculous” and there’s an “oversaturation” of establishments there.
Marks, who lives in Old Town near The Vig, said they were eventually drawn to Logan Square because two of his partners live in the neighborhood.
“We want to have a positive impact in the neighborhood,” Marks said, adding that all of their alcohol proceeds from the family and friends opening event will be sent directly to neighborhood groups.
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