A year ago we reported that the main floor of the Tribune Tower was set to be a really big new restaurant from Bottleneck Management, who had several somewhat generic dining spots around town (Old Town Pour House, The Boundary, South Branch, Sweetwater). A couple of months ago we reported that Scott Walton, who had given another somewhat generic location (MarketHouse in the Doubletree Hotel) a higher profile with his farm to table leanings and in-house charcuterie, was leaving for an unspecified project. Get where this is going? Crain's— yes, Crain's, not, you know, somebody in the Tribune Tower— reports that Bottleneck has recruited Walton for what's now going to be called Howells & Hood, a 17,000 square foot restaurant named for the original architects of the Tribune Tower.
The restaurant, set to open in March, will occupy a former press room at the Tribune building, with dining space for 250 and another banquet room with room for 150. It will also have three bars, offering a total of 120 beers each on tap, for a total of 360 taps.
To their credit, Bottleneck is forthright about the fact that they needed a chef to raise the level of their food offerings for this high-profile location: "Our food was always approachable, but not necessarily unique. With Scott, it's very refined and a unique offering," co-owner Chris Bisaillon tells Crain's.
Karl Klockars at Guys Drinking Beer has some questions about those 360 taps, which will, so far as anyone can tell, make Howells & Hood the biggest beer bar in the galaxy:
As much as we want to see hundreds and hundreds of taps just steps from Michigan Avenue, it begs the question - is that much beer even close to a good idea? The turnover there is probably going to be pretty good, but we’re still finding ourselves fearing a situation where there’s a neverending pour of Miller Lite and Bud Light Lime-a-rita while kegs of other (better) beers sit around, grow stale and make those miles of beer lines funky as hell.
Followup question: Is that 360 different beers, or are we talking 120 beers available in three different places? Either way it’s still a lot of taphandles to keep track of. We’re having flashbacks to the old Chicago Ale House on Lawrence. We were promised upwards of 40 taps. When they opened, they sure did have a lot of taps - that were full of Old Style, Old Style Light, Miller Lite, Miller High Life you get the picture.
Well, if they're determined to do food right by hiring Walton, hopefully they're determined to do beer right too, but the concerns are well-placed. In any case, this is a game-changer for that much-touristed stretch of Michigan Avenue, which apart from The Purple Pig has been culinary undistinguished since we can remember, so we can't wait to see how what is surely going to be one of the highest-traffic restaurants in Chicago (at least in tourist season) pans out. In the meantime... there's an open call for kitchen staff today through Friday, 9 to 3 each day, at Old Town Pour House, 1419 N. Wells.