Billy Lawless Sr. joined WCL to talk about being an Irishman in Chicago, his restaurants The Gage and Henri, the special St. Patty's Day menu and his involvement with the Chicago Sister Program with Galway Ireland.
The Gage is owned by the Lawless Family who hail from Galway, Ireland and have been in the hospitality industry since 1977. In Ireland, the Lawless family owned and operated several renowned bars, restaurants and hotels including Gallows Prospect Hill, Taaffe's Shop Street, Trigger Martyns (now Tigh Coilin) and The Twelve Pins, a full service 20-bedroom hotel which included a bar and acclaimed restaurant. The Lawless family moved to the U.S. in 1997 and acquired an existing restaurant in Wrigleyville. They completely reconcepted and renovated the establishment and opened Wrigleyville's first Irish bar, The Irish Oak (www.irishoak.com) in 1998. The Irish Oak remains a favorite of locals and tourists alike and has just celebrated its seventh anniversary. Featured recently in the Sun Times, the "Oak" is Zagat guide recommended and was voted Best Irish Bar 2004 by Citysearch and Winner of both the AOL City Guide 2004 for Comfort Food and the 2004/2005 Silver Platter Award. In 1998, the Lawlesses looked North and acquired Winners, a sports bar in Lincoln Square, together with a partner. They oversaw a complete renovation of the establishment to reflect a more modern Irish bar/restaurant and The Grafton was opened in late 2002. Today, The Grafton has attracted a loyal clientele and the establishment is among the most successful in Lincoln Square. In early 2006, the Lawlesses divested their share in The Grafton in order to focus on The Gage. The Gage was opened in early 2007.
From the creators of The Gage comes Henri ? energetically American, French influenced. Heralded as an "instant classic", Henri offers fine dining without pretention. Henri takes its inspiration, as well as its name, from the pioneering American architect Louis Henri Sullivan, whose work re-imagined our turn-of-the-century urban landscape.
Although he studied at the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Sullivan was not limited by deference to convention in his pursuit of the bold. With a vision unique for his era, Sullivan used his classical education as a tool to inform modernity in his early designs for the steel-frame skyscraper, a quintessentially American structure. Sullivan's work, which includes the terra cotta ornamental facade of Henri's building, illustrated that only a strong foundation supports innovation. Henri embraces this guiding principle in both its design and its menu.
Under the direction of Executive Chef Dirk Flanigan, assisted by Chef de Cuisine Christopher Cubberley, Henri's menu is influenced by the refining principles of classical cuisine. Innovative dishes like lobster Wellington and a short rib burger join traditional favorites such as oysters mignonette, steak tartare, Dover sole and roast chicken. Daily specials highlight the bounty of the season, and a rotating plat du jour offering features favorites such as a Monday cassoulet and Friday bouillabaisse. The carefully curated wine list is almost exclusively biodynamic, while cocktails are both creative and classic.
Reminiscent of a European salon, Henri's decor echoes the building's turn-of-the-century origins with sea green mohair-covered settees, chocolate velvet-covered walls, herringbone patterned hardwood floors, silk drapery, ornate crown moldings and chandeliers swathed in brown silk shades. Just steps from the city's cultural landmarks including museums, theaters, Millennium Park and the Symphony, Henri provides an elegant respite from bustling Michigan Avenue.
Chicago Sister Cities ? Galway, Ireland