Jackie Gillum

Japanese highball machines, a hyper-seasonal cocktail menu and more—here’s a sneak peek at Jim Meehan's Japanese-inspired bar, debuting on Wednesday, September 27.

Elyse Inamine
September 26, 2017

A decade ago, Jim Meehan, the famed bartender behind PDT in New York City, first met restaurant designer Kevin Heisner. In Tokyo. At Bar Radio, the intimate Omotesando neighborhood bar with American cocktails and jazz on the speakers.

Tomorrow, the two along with Matt Eisler, the co-founder of Heisler Hospitality with Heisner, are opening their first venture together in Chicago after hitting it off 6,312 miles away. Funny enough or perhaps naturally, it’s a Japanese-inspired bar.

At Prairie School in the West Loop, highballs come out of a machine, you can buy your own bespoke ceramic mug for them and cocktails change according to microseasons—every two weeks. Named after the architecture style spearheaded by Frank Lloyd Wright which took its organic and low-lying aesthetic from Japanese architecture, the bar intends to translate that vision into drinks.

“Frank Lloyd Wright described his work as organic and trying to bring the prairie inside,” says Meehan. “Being thoughtful about the seasons, the produce and the ingredients we’re working with, we’re trying to do that in a liquid format.”

That translates to 12 rotating cocktails you’ll see updated every three months or so, as well as a hyper-seasonal sekki menu, typically applied to Japanese dishes that operates on the premise of 24 seasons instead of four, according to Meehan.

“The big joke in the Midwest is that we only have two seasons: winter and road construction,” says Meehan. “But this encourages you to look more closely at what’s going on around you. You’ll find there a lot more ways to tell the story.”

Behind the 28-foot live edge bar, similar to the one at Bar Radio, Meehan—who is a managing partner and will continue to oversee operations from his home in Portland, Oregon—and his head bartender Kristina Magro are making the most of local products.

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Take the Fruit Loop, made with Wild Turkey rye whiskey, Michigan cherry liqueur and Fernet to play up the region’s superb but fleeting stone fruit season. Or on the first sekki menu for Prairie School, sip on the Silver Corn Fizz, fortified with mellow corn whiskey and Illinois sparkling wine. Here, wine isn’t just a mixer, either, with three wines—two on tap—one cider and four Windy City beers, and bar snacks will be crafted by Regards to Edith’s chef Jared Wentworth.

It all adds up to what will be the place to be in Chicago.  

Prairie School, 326 N. Morgan St., Chicago, IL