Bull & BearNovember 17, 2011
Sports Bar of the Year Entry
Name of Bar: Bull & Bear
Square Footage: 5,000
Open Date: Jan. 28, 2009
In a city divided by North and South Side baseball loyalties, it sometimes can take a Bull and a Bear to unite the town. With a nod to champion sports teams and wink at the stock market, Bull & Bear is a thriving, high-end sports bar in the heart of Chicago’s River North neighborhood. Nestled on a busy corner, just steps away from the financial district and Merchandise Mart, this multi-media destination is equipped with state-of-the-art viewing capabilities and complete with lunch, dinner and weekend brunch menus. The highlight of course, is the personal table taps; first-of-its-kind service amenities.
In 2009, Bull & Bear impacted the Chicago bar scene in a huge way with the introduction of personal table taps to the Midwest market. The taps are an innovative and engaging draft beer system that is revolutionizing the service experience, one pour at a time. The premiere booths come equipped with two taps apiece, from which guests can pour their own perfectly chilled pints. Patrons reserve tables according to their beer preference and a waitress activates the system. An LED tracker located on the table charges 30 to 40 cents per ounce and fills glasses until the guest is satisfied or the waitress pulls the plug. Looking to enjoy a game with a specific brew? Guests can contact the bar in advance to customize their table to pour the beer of their choice. This game-changing technology allows Bull & Bear to stand out from the thousands of other sports bars, as one of only a handful of bars throughout the country to offer table taps.
It’s the double entendre of Bull & Bear that truly sets the tone for the energy and atmosphere of this sports and stock market hybrid. Bull & Bear utilizes classic, rustic materials with a modern twist to establish an upscale atmosphere with a sports essence unique unto itself. With 27 TVs, the space offers unparalleled viewing capabilities from the stoic travertine bar to the handcrafted tufted leather banquette seating. The elements of the space are highlighted by amber up-lighting which illuminates the grandiose back bar and raw exposed brick walls, forming a soft, inviting glow. The 36-foot stock market ticker reflects Chicago’s deep stock market history and also displays the latest sports scores. The quickly recognizable “Play like a champion today” Notre Dame sign hangs proudly in the stairwell, encouraging good luck taps from patrons. For a breath of fresh air, the 80-seat patio is an excellent spot for people watching on the bustling Chicago corner.
But it’s not just Chicagoans that have grown to love the River North sports bar, Bulls and Bears players, such as Jay Cutler, have become regulars. In fact, the Blackhawks visit so frequently, that they have their very own booth in the back corner. In January 2011, Bull & Bear was featured as one of Chicago’s top ten celebrity hangouts by the Chicago Tribune and there was no shortage of athletes. The list included the Bears’ Lance Briggs, Corey Wootton, Henry Melton and J’Marcus Webb, Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Jordan Hendry, Nik Hjalmarsson, Jack Skille and Jake Dowell. Even out-of-towners like Ray Allen, Charles Oakley, Patrick Ewing, Orlando Magic’s Hedo Turkoglu and Chris Duhon and New England Patriots’ Brett Lockett made their way to Bull & Bear during trips to Chicago. Other months have seen the likes of sports enthusiasts such as Jimmy Fallon, Justin Timberlake, Brody Jenner and Jerry Ferrara from Entourage.
In addition to spontaneous appearances, the internal marketing team generates excitement through innovative sports-themed events and promotions. Bull & Bear hosted the Official Fan Party after the all-state Glory Days event. Fans joined the Chicago Bear’s finest as they celebrated the 25 year anniversary of their Super Bowl victory and the good old glory days. Steve McMichael, Richard Dent, Jim McMahon, Dennis McKinnon, Shaun Gayle and Otis Wilson were all on hand at to celebrate. For the 2011 football season, Bull & Bear launched pre-fixed menus that take the stress out of hosting a tailgate and keep the focus on the game. Available for groups of 4-10+, fans enjoy food and drink specials and the chance to win game tickets during every away game.
So what makes Bull & Bear such an enticing spot to catch the big game or just catch-up with buddies? The food and drinks, of course! When it comes to the menu, the theme is lost on no one. The cocktail menu is titled “Liquid Assets” and features drinks such as the Dirty Money (Belvedere, ginger beer and fresh lime juice) and Mint Condition (Jameson, Malibu, Bailey’s, Rumpleminz, Agave Nectar and fresh mint). Beers by the bottle include Delirium, Duvel, Fat Tire , Sofie, Leffe Blonde, Sierra Nevada and Newcastle. For a draft beer, imbibers choose from Guinness, Hoegaarden Stella Artois and Goose Island selections, including Green Line. Guests need not fret if they can’t snag a table tap, the individual beer and cocktail mini-barrels have been known to draw envious glances from onlookers.
At the helm of the kitchen is Executive Chef David Blonsky. Aspiring to elevate the typical bar fare, Chef Blonsky crafted Chicago Wingfest’s award-winning organic chicken wings and the slow-cooked organic turkey chili Nacho Index. Of course no sports bar would be complete without a signature burger, and Bull & Bear’s version features American Kobe beef, sweet red onion marmalade, melted gruyere and smoked bacon aioli on a brioche bun. For the main event, unlikely choices include the Skirt Steak with Szechwan green beans, shitake mushrooms and gorgonzola mash and Crispy Honey Miso Salmon with sautéed spinach, sticky rice and ginger soy reduction. Tasty short order items, such as crispy crab cakes and braised short rib sliders, round out the hearty bar menu. Weekend diners, no matter how late they sleep in, delight in the Broker’s Breakfast (housemade Bloody Mary) alongside PB&J stuffed French toast or daily selections of sweet and savory house made “pop tarts” at the all-day weekend brunch.
Because the delicious food is nothing without exceptional service, it’s up to the highly trained staff to shine. In addition to having a minimum of two years prior experience in the industry, servers and bartenders must endure a rigorous six-week training program. During this time, trainees are immersed in all things Bull & Bear from the service standards to menu details, culminating with a final 39-page exam. All servers must pass the exam with a minimum of 80 percent and succeed in three days of mock service to officially join the Bull & Bear team. Management holds pre-shift meetings for each shift and quarterly meetings are held with each staff group. To further enhance the guest experience, servers and bartenders are kept up-to-date on trends with regular informational sessions with cicerones and sommeliers.
By exceeding customer’s expectations and providing a brand new standard of customer service with the table taps, Bull & Bear’s revenue has grown steadily during the past three years. Specifically during peak sports games and seasons, Bull & Bear sees noticeable impact on its bottom line. During the Chicago Blackhawk’s Stanley Cup Championship season in 2010, the bar saw a $150,000 increase in revenue. Singular sporting events lead to 30 percent increases in revenue while March Madness boasts the highest sales of the year and increases revenue by 15 percent. In total, Bull & Bear grossed $5 million in its first year, $6 million in 2010, and is on target to hit $6.3 million for 2011. The Chicago venue that is changing the standard for sports bars across the country is keeping guests satisfied with the essentials — a cold beer and good game.