The revamped interior of The Diver features new windows, lighting, greenery and wood panels. Credit: Provided

RIVER NORTH — As a growing number of restaurants shut their doors amid the coronavirus pandemic, the team behind River North’s Flamingo Rum Club are gambling on bringing a fresh tropical bungalow-themed dining experience to 601 N. Wells St. 

Known as The Diver, the reconceptualized space swaps the Cuban cabaret vibes of its predecessor for the beachside towns found in Mexico like Tulum, Sayulita, and Baja, according to co-owners Adolfo Garcia and Phil Stefani. 

Fans of Chicago street artist JC Rivera will be sad to see the building’s iconic pink-and-turquoise flamingo mural disappear, but they can find solace knowing that Rivera will return in the coming days to create something new. Garcia says he first reached out to Rivera to ask permission to paint over the existing mural before inviting him back to reimagine the exterior. 

“We’ve given JC full freedom,” Garcia says. “He didn’t disappoint with the flamingos, so we can’t wait to see what he’ll do next.” Rivera hasn’t revealed his new design quite yet, but he plans to use earth tones and draw inspiration from the palm leaf motif taking shape inside the restaurant.

At the corner of Wells and Ohio, a remaining portion of JC Rivera’s flamingo mural will soon be replaced by a new creation from the Chicago-based street artist. Credit: Jay Koziarz/ Block Club Chicago

The Diver’s tropical ambitions are also reflected in its menu, which includes seafood tacos, ceviches, and vegan options as well as bar offerings that can be enjoyed in the dining room or to-go. The streamlined menu will start small to keep kitchen staff to a minimum. 

Meanwhile seating is capped at 38 guests in the dining room — plus 12 on the sidewalk cafe — to allow guests to social distance. To limit cross contamination and further cut down on staff interactions, the Diver will use fully biodegradable, compostable plates made from recycled banana plants. 

These precautions, its owners hope, will help the River North establishment buck the trend of recent closures impacting Chicago’s food and hospitality industries. 

“Everything I see in the news is restaurants closing,” Garcia said. “This will be something positive that we hope will inspire others to take a risk, but do so safely. Restaurants remain a social experience, even if it’s at a distance.

The Diver will be open Tuesdays through Fridays from 4-10 p.m. and  Saturdays and Sundays from noon-10 p.m. It will accept walk-in customers and reservations booked online.

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