With much anticipation, The Brass Monkey, open last month, becoming the newest addition to Chicago’s hot Fulton Market district. Owner and creator Marc Bushala (Untitled Supper Club) has developed a retro-chic yet casual restaurant, drawing inspiration from 1970s design, pop culture, music and food. From refined brasserie dishes to contemporary riffs on ‘70s comfort food, the 100-seat restaurant pays homage to the indulgent and idiosyncratic ethos of the period.
The restaurant concept was decidedly tongue-in-cheek and improvisational in spirit. “We wanted to create an experience like being at a dinner party on Warren Beatty’s yacht with Tom Jones entertaining and Julia Child cooking,” explained Bushala. Pulling inspiration from Julia Child and her iconic food from the ‘70s, the menu offers a contemporary take on classic brasserie fare, as well as some ‘elevated’ dishes from the era. “It is eclectic and ‘Childish,’” muses Bushala.
The menu concept, built from the collaboration between Bushala and Chef Kendal Duque (Sepia, Tru, Nomi) with execution by Executive Chef Ryan Wombacher (Siena Tavern), is deliberately dissonant, with dishes influenced by French cuisine contrasted by items inspired by American cuisine from the ‘70s era. “I had a lot of fun with the menu,” says Duque. “My approach to the ‘70s inspired menu was to enhance the mundane. The dishes are fun, delicious and familiar to anyone who grew up in that era.”
“The Brasserie” menu highlights include Grilled Spanish Calamari stuffed with wild boar sausage, a Seafood Gratin with crab, shrimp and scallops, Organic Steak Frites, Seared Duck Breast and house made Fois Gras served with seasonal accompaniments. A separate menu, showcasing traditional American dishes, or “Hits of the ‘70s,” include Sloppy Joe Sliders made with BBQ lamb shoulder and fried onions, house-made Fish Stix, a selection of gourmet French Pizza Breads like the Winter Vegetable and Truffle Mushroom, and a ‘TV Dinner’ served on an iconic four-part tray filled with Salisbury Steak with a cabernet-mushroom reduction, with a side of mashed potatoes, peas and creamed corn.
Even the drink menu sniffs of the ‘70s, with specialty cocktails that include a “Tang” tainted concoction and a contemporary take on the Harvey Wallbanger. The full version of the menu is available here.
“The 1970s are generally thought of as the ‘Decade that Taste Forgot,’” states Bushala. “But, if viewed far enough in the rear view mirror, it was an era that was unmistakably unique in terms of design.” The Brass Monkey’s interiors skillfully pull together patterns, colors and materials from ‘70s design without being contrived. Colorful marble and teak mingle, inverted Parisian street lamps recall disco balls over subdued velvet booths, and the unabashed use of brass throughout the space conspires to elicit a sexy atmosphere that perfectly captures the j’ne sais quoa air of the 1970s.
“Using the 1970s as inspiration presented both a challenge and opportunity in terms of the design of the space itself,” says Nicole Alexander of Siren Betty, who collaborated with Bushala and Door13 Architects on the interior design. “The ‘70s were such an interesting time in terms of design and fashion, so there were a lot of amusing contradictions and experiments with form to have fun with. It was great to have the latitude to juxtapose these elements in the construct of an industrial loft space.”
While the design, food and beverage take inspiration from the ‘70s, The Brass Monkey’s music is the 1970s, and is an essential component of the experience. Guests enter the restaurant through a vinyl ‘record shop,’ which also doubles as a private dining space, and displays thousands of LPs from the ‘70s to peruse. The music playlist features a rotation of more than a thousand songs from and influenced by the decade.
“In terms of any one era of music, the ‘70s is without a doubt my favorite,’’ says Shreyas Shah, who oversees branding and music for the new concept. “My goal was to curate the music to be unmistakably ‘70s in sound, but also grounded in early to mid ‘70s American and British rock.” From familiar hymns featuring old time classics to B-sides and rarities from iconic ‘70s musicians, The Brass Monkey will pair ‘70s favorite while also paying homage Chicago roots. Shah worked with Clark Nelson, a respected Chicago-based vinyl collector and DJ, who was instrumental in helping create a global ‘70s vibe, including genres like Brazilian Psych-Soul, folk, Argentinean Rock, Afro-Funk, roots reggae, Kraut Rock, and beyond.