Is Eataly Heading Into the Zone?

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Crowds on Saturday afternoon at Eataly New York. Photo: Sky Full of Bacon

Every food writer we know who was in New York last week made a stop at Eataly, Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich's vast Italian market and collection of restaurants and food counters. And to a man or a woman, they came away not just impressed, but dazzled and overloaded... and desperate for the promised Chicago version to open as soon as possible. But where would such a thing go? The owners clearly want foot traffic and to be in an area with lots of lunch and dinner trade (on our visit, at least, far more of the actual business seemed to be lunch than shopping for provisions). Not too surprisingly as a result, they told Chicago magazine a couple of months back that they were looking around Michigan Avenue— not on it but near it. A real estate biz-connected connection now tells us that the spot they're close to signing on fits exactly those criteria: it's the former ESPN Zone on Ohio between Rush and Wabash.

The massive sports-bar-arcade closed in June 2010; at 35,000 square feet the space is somewhat smaller than the 50,000 square foot New York flagship, but certainly comparable, and while there's nowhere to really judge against in terms of the question of how much olive oil and fresh pasta the area is likely to buy, there's no question that lunch and dinner traffic in the area already sustains any number of large businesses and successfully draws both locals and tourists. More to come as this project, which likely would open next year, progresses.