With protein-packed menus and glamorous surroundings, chef José Andrés’ Bazaar Meat and Bar Mar bring power dining back to downtown Chicago.
Bazaar Meat’s sultry second-floor dining room beckons with picturesque river views.
Who opens restaurants in downtown Chicago in the middle of a pandemic? José Andrés, that’s who. The world-famous Spanish chef debuted tapas spot Jaleo in River North and all-day Loop spot Café by the River over the summer of ’21; now, upstairs from the Café, he has doubled down with two lavish power dining spots, seafood-centric Bar Mar and upstairs carnivore destination Bazaar Meat. The question is, can Andrés single-handedly bring the expense account crowd back downtown? The answer, based on two recent visits, is a resounding yes.
American wagyu skirt steak with rosemary-mustard sauce
A massive glass octopus sculpture sets the seafaring tone at A-list destination Bar Mar.
The wow factor is apparent even before you step inside Bar Mar. Visible from across the street through the building’s stunning floor-to-ceiling windows, you see the ultimate statement piece: a huge glass octopus designed by Lázaro Rosa-Violán that hangs cheekily above the expansive bar and immediately draws your eye. That is, until your eyes catch a glimpse of the power players and A-listers laughing, chatting and noshing on caviar cones, delicate ceviches, oysters and lobster rolls everywhere you look. Chicago’s power crowd may have been in hibernation since 2020, but they’re back in full force at Bar Mar.
Chef José Andrés
Upstairs at Bazaar Meat, the scene is even sultrier, all crimson velvet and low lighting, with floor-to-ceiling views of the Chicago River as the backdrop to perhaps Andrés’ most audacious gamble yet: putting his own stamp on the institution of the Chicago steakhouse. “Bazaar Meat is the steakhouse of the future,” says Andrés, “not only featuring beautiful cuts of meat, but also showcasing vegetables in unbelievable new ways.” The chef and his ThinkFoodGroup are certainly making all the right moves, partnering with local institution Gibsons Restaurant Group in delivering a mix of familiar cuts—think prime Angus steaks, bone-in strip loins and wagyu tenderloins—with unexpected offerings like mature vaca vieja steaks and creative veggie preparations (cauliflower couscous with harissa broth, anyone?), all served with Andrés’ signature style.
Bazaar Meat’s light-as-air but crazy-decadent cotton candy foie gras
Even the serving bowls are on message at Bar Mar.
Along with those steaks, some of the most delightful offerings we found were among Bazaar Meat’s smaller plates: evanescent cotton candy foie gras; addictive Kobe airbread; and a stunning caprese starring liquid mozzarella. It all adds up to a steakhouse experience with serious Spanish flair—and coupled with Bar Mar, it may well signal the return of a vibrant downtown dining scene. “I love having both concepts together, as you can create your own experience every time you visit,” says Andrés. “Start with a bite and a cocktail at Bar Mar before dinner at Bazaar Meat one night; enjoy drinks with friends at Bar Mar the next. Every time you go can be something completely different and just as special, which is at the heart of what we do at all our restaurants.” 120 N. Wacker Drive, thebazaar.com
Smoked oysters with apple mignonette air
Photography by: GARRETT SWEET; REGAN BARONI; COURTESY OF THINKFOODGROUP