A Stiff Drink, Served in a 1926 Bank Vault
August 24, 2011
Cities – Chicago in particular – are adaptive, unsentimental organisms. Districts grow and shrink, demographics change and buildings are razed to make way for new construction. For example, a current dispute amongst the Chicago architecture community revolves around the proposal to install a Target on the ground floor of Louis Sullivan’s Carson, Pirie, Scott and Company building (of course, the intended program for that iconic building was originally retail, so a big box store isn’t far off the mark!).
Less controversial (but perhaps more interesting) is the recent rehabilitation of a regal 1920s bank building in Wicker Park into a buzzing restaurant and bar, The Bedford. Click through to keep reading.
A little background: Built in 1926 and designed by Vitzthum, Karl, and Co., the Home Bank and Trust Company Building received landmark status in 2008. The building sits just West of the Polonia Triangle right off the Division CTA blue line stop.
Once a bustling bank in the “Polish District” of the city, in recent years the building was resurrected by beacon-of-consumerism CVS. Although their conversion is far superior to your run of the mill medicine depot, it doesn’t showcase what makes the Home Bank Building unique. To see the true building, you have to enter through a non-obtrusive door along its South façade.
Plugged into this side of the building is The Bedford, a destination cloaked in nostalgia for the era from which the Bank emerged. The name comes from the limestone quarries of Bedford, Indiana, from which the building’s facades are made.
The saloon definitely engages the nostalgia trend, but it’s backed up by the authenticity of its home. Walls of original lockboxes line the space, while the true centerpiece of the building is the awesome, floor-to-ceiling vault door that sits open, offering guests a first-come-first-served refuge.
These spaces, where the bank’s old details are on-view, is where The Bedford shines, while the newer design elements are doled out with a gentle touch, intended to compliment the functional infrastructure of the bank. Women are given a special treat: a secret sitting space located in the powder room, allowing an escape from gentleman (or woman) callers.
Let’s be honest, though: what keeps people coming back to a bar is the drinks. How do The Bedford’s hold up? My Manhattan was decent, but watery, and the house special – the Jackknife — did not do justice to its Templeton Rye base, a staple of Chicago’s prohibition era. I did find the beer on tap great, and a can of Daisy Cutter Pale Ale, by Chicago local’s Half Acre, has never disappointed.
The best way to talk about The Bedford is in terms of its potential. Despite a few missteps with regard to the menu, the space is seductive and amazing. Go for the space (and the beer) and see where the night takes you. You might just run into a John Dillinger look alike.