Revisiting Randolph Street: Restaurant Row sees turnover
Each month, we pick one Chicago street, avenue or boulevard to play tourist in our own city. This month, we're revisiting Randolph Street.
Why it matters: This West Loop stretch, between Halsted and Morgan streets, rivals River North as the dining destination of Chicago.
What's happening: Randolph Street has exploded with new restaurants and shops in the last few years, but the facades of the old Restaurant Row are fading.
Driving the news: In January, Chicago chef and restaurateur Stephanie Izard's charming brunch spot Little Goat Diner, across the street from her renowned Girl & the Goat, closed its doors to relocate to the North Side.
- While turnover is expected in the high rent area, a lot has changed since the last time I strolled the area even a few months ago.
Still there: Chances are you've had dinner at Au Cheval, Girl & the Goat or Bar Siena in the last decade.
- Also, J.P. Graziano Grocery Co., which has been owned by the family for over 100 years.
Flashback: Randolph Street mostly housed wholesalers and food processing plants up until the turn of the 21st century.
- The street transformed with the foodie revolution, featuring restaurants like Izard's flagship Girl & the Goat, which opened in 2010.
Yes, but: "Restaurant Row" was paved years earlier by restaurateur Jerry Kleiner who pioneered fine dining establishments like Marché and Red Light, which both opened in the early 1990s.
- Those places closed around the same time that Au Cheval, Girl & the Goat and Publican (two streets over on Fulton) opened.
State of play: Today, many restaurants have been impacted by the pandemic and shifting dining patterns, as well as labor shortages.
- These were factors in the closing of Little Goat, plus restaurants like Maude's, Bad Hunter, The Front Room and The Darling.
- But they've been replaced by places like grab-and-go spot The Goddess and the Grocer, cocktail bar Bandit and the TexMex eatery Texan Taco Bar.
The intrigue: The luxury hotel and rooftop bar Nobu, which opened off Randolph in 2020, has emerged as the latest exclusive nightlife spot, drawing celebrities to the area along with nearby Soho House.
Zoom in: Randolph has also welcomed a wave of new retail from mostly luxury brand chains, including Madewell, Warby Parker, Lululemon and Mejuri jewelry.
- It's also attracted New York outposts of Levain Bakery and bedding brand Brooklinen.
Meanwhile, traffic has slowed down markedly, thanks to stop signs at every corner to accommodate the high pedestrian traffic.
- And due to pandemic-era patios on the side of Randolph, parking is at a serious premium.
Reality check: The West Loop is not immune to public safety concerns. The nightlife district has always attracted crime, especially late night on Lake Street.
- But it has spilled over to the residential areas, including a couple high-profile kidnapping attempts late last year.
The bottom line: Randolph still offers you great restaurant experiences, but its success has come at a price. A price that independent Chicago businesses can rarely afford.
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