Telegraph (Chicago): A French-inspired wine bar and eatery avoids clichés with its rustic, industrial design

Architects Rachel Crowl and Julie Fisher wanted Telegraph’s environment to reflect the elegant but unpretentious taste of its owners.  Photo by Katrina Wittkamp

[Please note that Fine's posting schedule has changed.  “Design” now appears on Tuesdays and “Dine” on Thursdays.  “Wine” (or beverage) will be posted on Saturdays on a periodic basis.]

A telegraph is a system used to transmit messages from afar.  And the name of Telegraph — the acclaimed Logan Square restaurant and wine bar — takes on special significance when one learns a bit about how this lively little eatery was designed.

Owners Tom MacDonald, Janan Asfour and Jason Normann (Webster’s Wine Bar) once again turned to Rachel Crowl and Julie Fisher of fcSTUDIO.  The Chicago architects had previously designed the team’s Bucktown gastropub, The Bluebird.

Crowl (left) and Fisher (right) worked collaboratively with their clients, who live in Mexico most of the year.  Photo courtesy of FcSTUDIO

But MacDonald and Asfour spend a majority of the year in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where their two children attend school.  So the give-and-take collaboration took place across two countries.

“It definitely added to the hilariousness of the project,” Crowl says.

The 85-seat, one-year-old eatery straddles two storefront spaces that formerly housed a dentist’s office and an apartment rental agency.  And it was “inspired by a lot of our favorite Paris wine bars,” says the well-traveled MacDonald.  “We said ‘Let’s do some great food and great wine together, but still have it be casual.

“I didn’t want white tablecloths or something super-fancy.”

And Crowl and Fisher aren’t the types to simply create a faux-Parisian wine bar.

Instead, Telegraph’s rustic (with a hint of industrial) décor is more about feel — comfortable, intimate, casual, elegant — than a specific look.  “It’s timely, but not canned,” Crowl says. “We are not trying to duplicate what already exists.”

Co-owner Tom McDonald sourced many of the restaurant’s natural materials in Mexico.  Photo by Katrina Wittkamp

MacDonald spent a good deal of time venturing out into the Mexican countryside, procuring wonderful materials that the architects then worked into the space.

“My Spanish got good in a hurry,” MacDonald says with a laugh.

The dual wining and dining areas feature rough-hewn, wood-topped, sleek iron-bottomed high and low tables.  The sculptural tables were designed by Crowl and Fisher and made in Mexico.  They’re paired with clean-lined iron stools and dining chairs upholstered in a deep orange-toned Mexican leather.  Large white-painted terra-cotta scalloped tiles are used both as wainscoting and as a base covering for Telegraph’s back-to-back bars.

Materials also came from north-of-the-border sources.  The gorgeous, rich mesquite flooring is from Texas.  And partner Jason Normann scouted out reclaimed materials from Wisconsin that the architects used liberally throughout the space.  Old doors cover the entrances to the bathrooms and kitchen.  And after much modern-day telegraphing about what to hang in the front room’s front windows, 1920s fixtures cast their glow.

Telegraph has two bars, and both have simple back bars that were fashioned from reclaimed Wisconsin wood.  Photo by Katrina Wittkamp

Telegraph’s almost identical back bars are simply designed, sturdy structures crafted from reclaimed Wisconsin wood.  They hold the restaurant’s plethora of wine glasses, as well as framing a collection of sepia-toned French vineyard photographs that MacDonald snapped during his travels.

“[The back bars] bring a utilitarian aspect to the space,” Crowl says.  “Back bars can get overthought.  We let the utility of the business dictate the look.”

Bringing a pop of “industrialism” to the front room are large helmet-shaped “bomb shelter lights,” which extend over the tables along the wine bar’s east wall.  Across the way, oversized hand-cast glass orb pendants warmly light the bar.

Although both rooms are tied together by their bars, furnishings,  light-and-dark “slate” color palette — and a soon-to-be-added, sweeping photo gallery that will run through both rooms — the architects added some extra twists to the back area.

Iron cantilevered fixtures light the communal dining table, which is used for large groups, wine tasting and special dining events.  Photo by Katrina Wittkamp

There’s a continuous banquette that lines the west wall and is upholstered in a vibrant, multicolored ikat fabric.  “We wanted to introduce color so it wouldn’t get dull,” Crowl says.  And a series of niches above the banquette hold a rotating collection of original art.  Currently, boldly colored pieces by Chicago artist EC Brown occupy the space.

Additionally, a wood communal table juts out from the bar and can be used for wine tastings and special dining events as well as large groups.  Striking iron cantilevered fixtures — each baring a single Edison bulb — project from the wall and loom over the communal table.

“Again, it’s a utilitarian thing,” Crowl says.  “We’re just letting the lighting be the art.”

2601 N. Milwaukee Avenue
Chicago, Illinois  60647

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