How a Plaster-Covered Wall Inspired the Design of One of Chicago’s Hottest Restaurants

© Bethany Fritz Maypole Studios

By Elyse Inamine Posted March 17, 2017

Chef John Manion of El Che Bar in Chicago breaks down the elements of his South American-inspired bar.

“No tchotchkes, no tango posters, no gaucho memorabilia,” says John Manion, the chef and owner of La Sirena Clandestina about his latest project, El Che Bar in Chicago. “We wanted that feeling of Buenos Aires without being obvious.”

He along with owner Daniel Boyd added sleek touches, like a black marble counter, to evoke South America in the West Loop restaurant space. But they’ve also just got inspired from what was already there, in the turn-of-the-century cast-iron pillars and by slowly peeling away the plaster from the walls and finding hidden gems.

Here, Manion dishes on the details that make their design sing:

Hearth “The main focus of the room is the huge roaring fire in a 12-foot custom-built hearth,” he says. “It anchors the open kitchen.”

Food & Wine: El Che Bar

© Bethany Fritz Maypole Studios

Black marble counter “We wanted to honor that Old World sense of elegance you feel in Buenos Aires,” Manion says. “We felt something sleek and modern like this black marble top provides a nice contrast to the classic marble top and spoke to the contemporary European design you see so much of in Argentina.”

Ceiling “Aside from the original pillars that frame the dining room, the second hugely influential element was the original wooden lath uncovered through a painstaking process of gently removing the original plaster coating, cleaning, sanding and refinishing,” he says. “The horizontal design of the wooden lath ignited the decision to not build a vertical back bar highlighting bottles, but rather amplify the structure of the lath by building a horizontal bar.”

Bar front “I can't imagine the space without this black glazed brick bar front,” Manion says. “When searching for a manufacturer of glazed brick, we stumbled upon a small broker in Chicago who had supplied the exact same brick when Checker Taxi bought and refurbished the façade in the 50s.”

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