The high-concept Wicker Park newcomer Machine: Engineered Dining & Drink features not only an inventive bill of craft cocktails and shared plates, but also a full-scale flower shop.

By Meredith Heil
March 26, 2019
Matthew Reeves

Peer inside Chicago newcomer Machine: Engineered Dining & Drink’s sleek floor-to-ceiling windows, and you’ll notice something curious amid the industrial-chic interior and steampunk-inspired decor: an illuminated corner just off the long marble bar, crowded with greenery and lined with dozens of colorful blossoms.

And it’s not just for show. This ambitious Wicker Park restaurant and bar touts itself as a concept within a concept, featuring not only an inventive bill of craft cocktails and refined shareables, but also a full-scale flower shop encouraging patrons to dress up their table with a fresh bouquet. It’s the ultimate date night one-stop-shop.

Co-owned by Machine Hospitality Group’s Brian Galati and Chireal Jordan of Headquarters Beercade fame, this forward-thinking venture began making headlines well before its March 11 debut, topping “most anticipated” lists on the local and national level. Along with the grab-and-go blooms, the eatery also incorporates floral elements into the menu and offers a stocked mobile flower cart for custom tableside bouquets. It’s proven to be a particularly alluring touch.

Sophia Mathias

“People are amped,” said Ashley Holbert, one of the florists on staff. “When they heard that a flower shop was going to be a part of the restaurant, they were like, 'What?' They didn't think it was going to be as extensive, from how it's incorporated into the drinks to the cart and tableside service.”

Holbert and her fellow florists peddle their wares around the space once or twice every hour, stopping to walk restaurant-goers in plush velvet chairs through the fragrant selection, available in six-, 12-, or 24-stem arrangements. On a recent Wednesday night, her assortment included stannis, arinthium, several kinds of roses, gerber daisies, carnations, mimosas, hyacinth, tulips, eucalyptus, ranunculus, jasmine, and magenta-hued ginger blossoms.

“You're going to select the stems, I'm going to put it together for you. And if you like, I can put a clamp here so you can have it with your dinner,” Holbert explained, gesturing to a lightweight contraption designed fit onto the lip of the table and hold your flowers upright, kind of like an attachable baby seat or champagne bucket but much, much more charming. “I think you’ll like that,” she said knowingly. “It's part of the experience.”

Sophia Mathias

But what the flower cart provides goes far beyond instant ambience. More than a gimmicky prop, the cart embodies the restaurant’s core philosophy—“We all eat together”—by facilitating a warm and whimsical interaction, with the object, between dining companions, and with the folks behind the magic.

“Flowers make everyone happy,” said co-owner Brian Galati. “It doesn’t matter your age, gender or background; a beautiful bouquet always sparks joy. We wanted to find a way to integrate that energy and positivity into the overall experience.”

The menu follows suit. Large format punches under the heading “We all drink together” arrive in diamond-shaped glass vases flanked by multiple Nick and Nora glasses, while individual concoctions like the perky and refreshing Caged & Infused (butterfly flower tea-infused gin, lemongrass, maraschino liqueur, lemon) come topped with a crystallized violet candy web you’re instructed to smash with small hammer before you sip. The flowers make a physical appearance, too.

"There are quite a few cocktails with floral influences, both in flavor and appearance,” noted Beverage Director Aneka Saxon, a seasoned barkeep whose resume includes a stint at the esteemed Violet Hour, also in Wicker Park. “One of my favorites is the Ice Sage—it has edible flowers frozen into the ice cubes.”

Sophia Mathias

Executive Chef Trevor Hoyte’s cuisine is similarly playful and meant to be enjoyed communally. The carrot “tartare” is a tightly molded mound of orange sunshine, its center bursting with bright green fennel sprigs and scoops of soft ricotta like a tiny alpine forest. The succulent short rib, sousvide for 48 hours and drizzled in tangy tamarind sauce, is split into perfectly shareable portions.

“They already had the 'We all eat together' tagline, so I was like, 'How can I make it work with food?'” said Hoyte. “So, I added the shareable section and it plays really well. It's how I like to eat, how most everyone likes to eat. You go out, you order a bunch of stuff, pass it around the table, try different things. And I think from that standpoint, you get a really good feel for what the place is actually doing.”

Sophia Mathias

What Machine: Engineered Dining & Drink is actually doing, it seems, is orchestrating a special kind of connection, a thoughtfully constructed collective narrative woven together to stimulate all the senses at once. And it works, fittingly, like a well-oiled machine.

“The name Machine denotes the many components of the restaurant coming together to run smoothly,” explained co-owner Chireal Jordan. “From the front of house to the kitchen and cocktail team to our floral specialists, everyone brings their unique perspective to the table to create something truly special.”

1846 W Division Street, Chicago, IL. (312) 549-8740

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