For the third time in two weeks, we’re able to bring you a peek inside a new Chicago commercial establishment before it opens. This time, it’s the Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House inside the newly renovated Esquire Theater (58 East Oak Street).
The transformation of the abandoned theater into multi-tenant retail space has been one of the more controversial conversions we’ve covered here. A number of plans were floated and scuttled over the years, including adding a hotel tower to the historic building. In the end, it has been divided into a two-story restaurant on top, and a single story of retail space on the bottom.
Entry into the Del Frisco’s steakhouse is through a long corridor on the west side of the building. On the right are wooden racks behind glass with 500 magnums of wine. This is an ongoing motif in the restaurant, which boasts more than 1,500 varieties of wine. Each was selected by Del Frisco’s Director of Wine, David O’Day. (Italian Village in The Loop remains Chicago’s undisputed wine champion, with over 35,000 bottles.)
The left side is a bit of nostalgia. With the blank front wall of the former theater now full of windows, the old Esquire marquee had no place to call home. Fortunately, it has been cleaned up, fitted with LED bulbs masquerading as period fixtures, and mounted to the left wall, its massive carnival-like letters imparting playful anticipation along with illumination.
That’s where we met Troy Smith, the restaurant’s general manager. It’s his job to make this restaurant happen; and he has his work cut out for himself. It’s a very large space divided into dozens of smaller areas, each with its own unique shape, decor, theme, and construction needs.
At the end of the hallway is a reception desk and coat check. Guests are then squired up an elevator or escalator to the second floor. Those of you who saw movies at the old Esquire will instantly get a flash of recognition, as a bar of roughly the same size and shape has been placed in the same location as the old concession stand. However, those hoping for even more nostalgia will be disappointed. In spite of the first impression imparted by the friendly marquee downstairs, this restaurant is not an homage to the old movie house. It is thoroughly Del Frisco’s space now, and made in its image.
Like all of the levels in this building, the second floor is unusually tall. That’s because back when this was a theater, it had sloping concrete floors to improve the audience’s view. These floors has to be ripped out and replaced with level floors, suitable for retail use.
At the center of the space the ceiling opens to the third floor, which has more restaurant seating. Linking the two is the showpiece of the restaurant — a massive wine tower.
The tower is so large it has two entrances, and a spiral staircase linking the second and third floors. Inside the giant glass rectangle are hundreds and hundreds of temperature-controlled bottles; more selections from the eatery’s impressive collection. There are so many bottles in the wine tower (the opposite of a wine cellar) that it’s too heavy for the floor. Instead, the wine racks are suspended from the ceiling lest they come crashing through the concrete and into the Christian Louboutin space below.
The two-story wine storage is just part of the reason that the lower floor is open to the upper. This is a place to see and be seen, and part of the entertainment is looking up (or down, depending on where you’re seated) to see the other guests. Because of its varied topography and architecture, the restaurant manages to have spaces that are very public, and intensely private. Banquettes that are dark and peaceful, and window seating that basks in the afternoon sun. It’s hard to tell what kind of vibe a restaurant will have until it’s open and full of guests, but the opportunities are there for whomever comes along.
Mr. Smith is hoping to draw on not only the Oak/Rush/Walton carriage trade, but to also draw neighborhood people down from Viagra Triangle. Though VT is better today than it was back in the 80’s, it is not what it once was. Dublin’s and Subway aren’t exactly upscale eateries, and the newest restaurant on the park is a chain pizza joint targeting tourists. It’s hard to feel bad for thrice-divorced 50-something Gold Coasters in pinky rings who aren’t satisfied with Carmine’s or Gibson’s, but even aging ad execs need a little variety.
Still, Del Frisco’s is somewhat less posh than its immediate neighbors. In what seems like a nod to its Texas pedigree, the sinks in Del Frisco’s restrooms are actually long communal troughs, like you might see in a baseball stadium or a feed lot, in both the men’s and women’s rooms. As if watching your neighbor’s presumably germ-coated soap bubbles drift under your hands is something we all like to remember while eating.
And Mr. Smith had the misfortune of touting an upcoming fleet of flat screen televisions yet to be bolted to the walls, including an 85-inch monster, as if this was a TGI Friday’s. The conversion of the theater into retail was done by the Aria Group out in Oak Park. It’s not known if the interior decor was locally bred, or came up from Del Frisco’s corporate headquarters in Dallas. Somewhere along the way someone should have reminded them that this is Oak Street, not Deep Ellum. Banking money, not ranching money.
The new steakhouse does have the potential to be a nexus for the immediate area, which is rich in shopping opportunities, but not so much in dining options, especially after business hours. Husbands can lounge in the bar while their wives prowl the boulevard. Ladies who lunch can have their intimate gossip sessions in a corner while keeping their hawk eyes on the competition. Celebutantes can spear salad greens al fresco on the small but serviceable second-floor patio, adjusting their chairs closer to the rail in order to be noticed by an adoring public, but easily pulling them back when what passes for paparazzi in Chicago shows up.
The real magic in any retail space is seeing it for yourself. While not everyone can shell out $89 for a top-of-the-line steak, it’s an interesting enough space that popping by Del Frisco’s for a couple of drinks is worth the trip once the restaurant opens December 1st. Until then, enjoy the still-under-construction photo gallery below, and read the press release that follows.
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DEL FRISCO’S OPENS ONE OF THE LARGEST STEAKHOUSES IN CHICAGO
ON DECEMBER 1, 2012 IN FORMER ESQUIRE THEATER
Design will preserve landmark theater’s historic architectural elements
CHICAGO, Ill. – (October 31, 2012) – Mark S. Mednansky, CEO of Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group, is thrilled to announce that the company will open Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House – one of the largest steakhouses in Chicago – on December 1, in the former site of the famed Esquire Theater on Oak Street in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood.
“We are very excited to welcome Chicago steak lovers to Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House. The Esquire Theater is a beloved landmark and we look forward to bringing it back to life and welcoming guests with the same warm, genuine hospitality we’re known for around the country,” said Mark S. Mednansky, CEO of Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group. “We’re known for our fabulous steaks, award-winning wine list and sinful desserts – but guests also come back for the see-and-be-seen buzz at Del Frisco’s.”
No one does steak like Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House. An American culinary classic, Del Frisco’s serves up flawless cuisine that’s bold and delicious, accompanied by an extensive, award-winning wine list and a level of service that reminds guests that they’re boss. Executive Chef Jim Teutemacher and Chef de Cuisine Anthony Reyes lead a culinary team known for its prime steak, fresh seafood, house made side dishes and decadent desserts. Steaks at Del Frisco’s are provided exclusively by Stock Yards in Chicago. Del Frisco’s features USDA prime, the top 2 – 3 percent of all meat in the US market. Most Del Frisco’s steaks are wet-aged 28 days to make the steak more tender and flavorful, seasoned simply with salt and pepper and broiled so that the juices flow from the top of the steak, allowing it to self-baste. The seared crust on the meat seals in the juices, creating an outstanding steak. Del Frisco’s often offers dry-aged steak too. These are also broiled to perfection.
Regulars at Del Frisco’s start with the Jumbo Lump Crab Cake, a renowned favorite packed with jumbo lump crab—always baked, never fried – and finished with a Cajun Lobster Sauce. The in-crowd at Del Frisco’s favors the 22-ounce Bone-In Prime Rib Eye and the 32-ounce Wagyu “Longbone” Ribeye – also known as “The Tomahawk.” Side dishes most in demand include the rich Mac ‘n’ Cheese and the Maque Choux Corn, which is shucked fresh every night and cooked al dente with Tasso Ham. For dessert, the scene-stealer at Del Frisco’s is the signature Lemon Doberge – a memorable, towering six-layer confection made from scratch daily and frosted with three different icings. The bar menu will be a take on local Chicago favorites such as a Miniature Deep Dish Pizza, Chicago-style Kobe Beef Hot Dogs, Prime Italian Beef Sliders and Truffled Potato Pierogis.
The impressive wine list at Del Frisco’s is a perennial winner of the Wine Spectator “Best of Award of Excellence.” Del Frisco’s Director of Wine, David O’Day, has carefully selected 1,500 wines from the top regions in the world, creating a stand-out choice for power players with discerning taste who want the best wines to complement their prime steaks. O’Day has built relationships with vintners around the world, allowing him to present a staggering array of sought-after wines. Showing a strong commitment to its wine program and staff education, Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group reimburses any employee who attains their Level 1 or Level 2 Sommelier Certification, and hundreds have done so. For everyone who works in the restaurants, training is ongoing, including weekly wine classes, with servers and staff constantly learning from the best in the business.
For those who prefer to kick off the evening with an elegant cocktail, Del Frisco’s signature libation is the VIP. Sweet Hawaiian Gold pineapples are steeped in premium vodka for 14 days and then hand-squeezed into a shaker with ice and poured into a chilled martini glass.
The Esquire Theater will provide an elegant and dramatic setting for Del Frisco’s. Great care has been taken to restore and preserve the architectural integrity of the beloved theater, including the familiar “Esquire” marquee that will hang proudly in the main floor lobby. Adjacent to the signage, a beautiful five hundred magnum wine wall serves as prelude to a two-story glass wine tower. Chicago’s own Aria Group Architects enhanced the multi-level steakhouse with a custom chandelier that cascades from the third floor to the second, through a stunning atrium sky light. Unique art installations, curved-back banquettes and tufted booths create comfort and a feeling of Chicago hospitality. At approximately 24,000 square feet, Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House will rank among the city’s largest steakhouses.
Although based in Texas, Del Frisco’s puts down roots in every location, becoming an active and enthusiastic part of the community and a sincere supporter of local charities. In Chicago, Del Frisco’s is proud to partner with the Big Shoulders Fund, which provides support to the Catholic schools in the neediest areas of inner-city Chicago. As a partner at the grand opening party through on-going fundraisers and dinners, Del Frisco’s looks forward to an ongoing relationship with Big Shoulders.
Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House is ideal for private dining. The team at Del Frisco’s can entertain private parties from ranging from 10 – 200 guests with ease in a variety of intimate settings that are perfect for business presentations, rehearsal dinners, anniversary parties, birthdays, graduations and other special events. Del Frisco’s has a dedicated private dining coordinator at the restaurant to guide guests through planning and executing dinners and special events.
Del Frisco’s has nine other locations situated in the business and entertainment epicenters of the country’s most exciting and vibrant cities – New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Las Vegas, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Charlotte and Denver – creating a seamless dining experience for savvy business travelers who regularly entertain away from home. Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group, also owns and operates Sullivan’s Steakhouses in Chicago, Naperville and Lincolnshire.
Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House is located at 58 East Oak Street. For reservations and private events, please visit www.delfriscos.com or call 404-537-2828.