From its prime location at the former Cowboy Slim’s site, the new place seeks bragging rights in both dining and drinking.
Brent Frederick and Jacob Toledo have been here before. Literally. The two used to run another bar on the site of their new French- and Mediterranean-inspired restaurant Coup D’Etat, which opened Wednesday in Uptown.
Once upon a plastic beer cup, Frederick and Toledo were cutting their teeth in the industry as managing partners of the bro-beloved Cowboy Slim’s. Of course, that was before they opened Borough — one of last year’s most acclaimed new fine-dining joints — and its sophisticated cocktail den Parlour.
“Everybody puts their foot in the door somehow,” Toledo said, standing in the 3,300-square-foot main dining room where Slim’s patio once was. “We learned a ton. Everyone says that they want to open a restaurant, but until you really do it and you pour your heart and soul into, and you bleed and sweat and live the place, you really don’t know what it takes.”
The cowboy-bar concept wasn’t theirs, but Toledo and Frederick always planned to return to the site once the Walkway development that shuttered Slim’s was completed. Coup D’Etat occupies the ground floor and mezzanine level on the corner of Girard and Lagoon avenues and the new space looks more like an Arcadian villa’s modernized dining room than a frat barn, thanks to herringbone wood floors, a few rustically elegant chandeliers and the regal, 25-foot-wide chalkboard menu above the open kitchen.
Coup D’Etat is no Borough clone, but the duo is using the same formula that made its North Loop counterpart a hit: design by ESG Architects, drinks from cocktail adventurist Jesse Held and the culinary triumvirate of Nick O’Leary, Joe Rolle and Tyler Shipton (another Slim’s alum before graduating to Travail with O’Leary).
“What’s funny is this was the first concept we approached them on,” Frederick said. “But it took so long to develop we were like, ‘Should we do one in between?’ So that’s when Borough happened.”
Not the worst turn of events. But this dream team is going bigger with its Uptown baby. The space tallies about 9,000 square feet and Toledo said it was designed to lure the large parties that rove Uptown (its sidewalk and mezzanine patio seating should be nice bait, too). The marble-tabled booths could fit six linebackers, and Held’s roughly 35-seat square bar (with dangling overhead orbs) accommodates nearly three times the guests that Parlour’s can. The bearded barman is licking his chops and bracing for Uptown’s high volume by creating big-batch versions of some of his drinks.
Surrounded by party bars like Bar Louie and Uptown Tavern, Held knows Uptown’s average nightlife patron isn’t looking to nerd out on funky liqueurs and artisanal bitters, and admits to crafting his drink menu accordingly. “I basically had to relearn the fundamentals of bartending — get back to hiding booze flavors — because it is a different demographic,” he said.
“I’m trying to be a magician at the same time as a bartender.”
Accessibility was a big objective, meaning fewer spirit-forward cocktails (however, the Parlour Old Fashioned makes a muscular cameo) and even a fairly traditional Sidecar is soft and radiantly citrusy. Flavor profile descriptions of each drink supplant the esoteric ingredient lists that can make serious cocktail bars intimidating for novices.
Held is also embracing the low-proof trend with the menu’s “Easy Drinkin’ ” section, where traditional spirits are sidelined, allowing less potent liqueurs and wines normally used as modifiers to shine. Every Rosé Has Its Thorn is a breezy before-dinner mix of prosecco, Cocchi Americano Rosa and lemon, while Held is especially fond of Easy Like a Sunday Morning, which blends a house-made cocoa nib liqueur (another Parlour import), cafe mocha liqueur, orgeat, cream and blackstrap bitters, served in a coffee mug.
“The low-proof movement, I think it’s so key in our industry, because it keeps people at your bar longer and gives them a more enjoyable experience,” he said.
Eventually, Held plans to add carbonated and bottled cocktails and a bloody Mary/mimosa cart once brunch service begins this spring. The main bar will have 24 beer taps in rotation, and a mezzanine bar will have six all-local taps.
On the food front, the chef trio devised a sizable, European-inflected menu of meat and fish entrees — pork osso buco, quail, branzino — pizzas and pastas, and hot and cold small plates, including tuna crudo, octopus bruschetta and superbly tender tempura frog legs. In warmer weather, a walk-up window facing Lagoon Avenue will serve a takeout menu from lunch to late night (start drooling, bar-hoppers).
Toledo admits their Uptown homecoming still hasn’t entirely sunk in. But it will.
“Come Friday and Saturday night when we see the hustle and bustle and the summertime when these doors are wide open and you can just feel the energy of Uptown, it’ll resonate,” he said. “It’s going to be really nostalgic.”
Michael Rietmulder writes about bars, beer and nightlife.
Poll: Which top Oscar-nominated film is next on your must-see list?