It’s no secret that food hall dining is a hot culinary trend, but what about food hall drinking?
Bar Manager Mark Phelan of Revival Cafe-Bar, the all-day bar located within Chicago’s beloved Revival Food Hall, is successfully tackling the challenges associated with crafting a beverage program that aligns with the chef-driven fare of the hall’s 16 fast-casual vendors.
Situated in the heart of the Loop, Chicago’s bustling business district, Revival Food Hall is a massive 24,000 square foot dining outpost that is frequented primarily by office workers from the downtown business district and visiting tourists looking to grab a quick lunch. Revival Cafe-Bar serves a unique demographic of diners from breakfast to dinner and Phelan thoughtfully considers the food hall’s clientele when developing menus.
“In the fast-paced food hall environment where efficiency is key, it can be challenging to create fresh ingredient cocktails that complement 16 different cuisine styles. My approach to the beverage program involves working closely with my staff to develop a creative and easy to execute menu that will connect us with our guests while bringing in optimal revenue.”
– Mark Phelan of Revival Cafe-Bar
Here is Phelan’s formula for food hall success
By offering draft cocktails to maximize efficiency behind the bar, creating an array of approachable yet intriguing ‘core’ cocktails and more, Phelan’s strategy to operating a food hall beverage program ensures that diners will have drinks that pair perfectly with everything from Smoque BBQ’s sliced brisket to Furious Spoon’s famed ramen. Keeping it simple, fast service, using non-verbal cues to connect with guests, and working as a team are all essential to his success.
Keep it simple and comfortable: Staying in line with Revival Food Hall’s casual vibe, the bar program features approachable, familiar offerings such as spritzes, highballs, and tiki drinks, which are given unique twists by incorporating housemade ingredients and spirits from local distillers. Whether enjoying tacos, poké, pizza, or empanadas from one of the food hall’s fast-casual, grab-and-go vendors, Revival Cafe-Bar provides diners with an array of unpretentious alcoholic options to accompany their meals.
Efficiency is everything: To help guests find a drink quickly and with minimal effort, Phelan presents a direct and streamlined menu made up of an assortment of ‘core’ cocktails. Using unambiguous menu descriptors such as “botanical gin” and “dry white wine” instead of specific brand and ingredient names provides patrons with an uncomplicated, at-a-glance idea of what they’ll be drinking. To serve as many drinks as possible, Phelan has employed strategies including offering bottled and draft cocktails, encouraging staff to create drinks that require no more than four steps to complete, and carefully considering the perishability of the components.
Creativity counts: Phelan continually strives to foster the talents and outside-the-box thinking of his team, regularly collaborating with bartenders to develop new cocktails such as those that make up the current menu, which was inspired by the architecture of iconic Loop structures such as the Marshall Fields building, The Art Institute, and The Rookery. The team is empowered to make decisions as a bar owner would, calculating costs when designing drinks and pushing their understanding of taste profiles and flavors.
“Our cocktails are named after and inspired by downtown architecture and served with postcards as an extra garnish. The postcard is a letter from the bartender to the guest. It explains the flavors, their inspiration, and some fun facts about the building. It is a nice souvenir, but more importantly, it is a way for us to connect with our guests and for them to get to know us during busy periods when we have less time to interact.”
– Mark Phelan of Revival Cafe-Bar
Operated by Chicago hospitality collective 16” On Center (Longman and Eagle, Dusek’s, MONEYGUN, Saint Lou’s Assembly, The Promontory and more) Revival Food Hall is an all-local dining concept spotlighting the best of Chicago’s acclaimed culinary scene under one roof. The massive, 24,000 square foot venue is located in the heart of The Loop on the ground floor of The National—a 20-story restoration of a historic 1907 Daniel Burnham-designed building. This collaborative project opened in summer 2016, and boasts 16 fast-casual stalls featuring many of Chicago’s favorite neighborhood restaurants in a grab-and-go setting, plus a handful of all-new, quick-serve concepts debuting from several acclaimed Chicago chefs. Revival Food Hall is open Monday through Friday from 7am-7pm, with the bar open until 9pm, and is located at 125 South Clark Street. For more info please visit RevivalFoodHall.com.