Newly minted restaurateur Eric Nordness says he never envisioned going into the dining industry. That was until the property developer and his business partners, sister Anne Nordness and Matt Mering, discovered a virtual treasure trove in the decrepit basement of an abandoned Wicker Park bank building.
“We saw a huge potential and what amazing materials were down there,” says Nordness, whose company, Salita Development, specializes in building hotels.
Banking on the fact that diners would want to hang out in an impossibly fun and unique space — there’s a cocktail lounge in a gleaming copper vault — and consume the culinary creations of chef Mark Steuer (Hot Chocolate, The Gage), Nordness and company opened The Bedford in April.
And the group appears to have struck gold, judging from the excitement the restaurant is generating.
Built of Bedford limestone, the historic 1925 building first housed Chicago’s Home Bank & Trust and later an MB Financial bank. The group wanted to celebrate the building’s history without turning the 9,000 square-foot space into an “era piece” or a “Capone gangster speakeasy,” Nordness says.
“We wanted every room to have something that tells the story of the building. We want people to sit anywhere in the space and have something visually interesting to look at.”
And with the help of hospitality design firm Gettys, the restaurateurs accomplished that goal.
The Bedford is smartly laid out in three main zones: an immense lounge/bar area, a smaller dining room and the intimate vault lounge. (There’s also a small private party room in back.) The owners kept the stunning original terrazzo flooring; the patterned beige, forest green and terra-cotta-colored panels run throughout the entire space and unify its three distinctly different areas.
In turn, each room showcases exquisite materials and elements from the building, some of which were castoffs from The Bedford’s upstairs neighbor — a CVS Pharmacy that now occupies the bank’s main floor. After descending an open staircase, for example, diners step into the bar/lounge area through a large entryway in a mosaic “feature wall.” The wall is covered with chunks of gold-veined black marble that originally served as teller counters upstairs on the main banking floor.
To the immediate left is the vault, with its massive circular steel door set in the open position. But the vault door isn’t the only striking feature in the long, open room. Standing outside the vault is a wonderfully ornate gilded banking table, with pens still attached, that doubles as an impromptu cocktail space. There’s also a double-sided 11-foot ivory marble fireplace wall that separates the bar from the dining room. The wall was created by filling in the space between two marble columns with additional marble from the building.
And at the room’s far end, a row of oversized and elevated semi-circular booths sit under a two-ton wall fabricated from nickel-plated safe-deposit box faces.
The boxes were extracted from the vault’s core to make room for lounge furnishings. But otherwise, the vault remains totally intact — from the copper safe-deposit boxes lining its four walls to the copper-paneled ceiling above. The only items added to the space were four drum chandeliers, several small groupings of mid-century modern and contemporary furniture and a smattering of Oriental rugs.
Immediately across from the vault’s rear door is a clock-topped glass and brass entryway where bank customers originally came into the vault area. Now it serves as a clever entrance into the main dining area, which boasts its own historic features, including original plaster walls and decorative crown moldings.
Although Nordness and company wanted to showcase the space’s grand features, the group also wanted to make The Bedford accessible and inviting to a cross section of people.
“We wanted it to feel like the like the living room of Wicker Park,” he says.
To create a homey air, colorful photographs taken by local artists cover the walls of the main dining room. Furnishings feature a mix of tables and seating with a variety of upholstery — fabric, leather and vinyl.
“We wanted clean lines and textured fabrics to show off the space and give it a comfortable feel,” Nordness says. “We wanted to add a lot of texture and warmth because of all of the hard surfaces.”
A neutral color palette with a few lively color pops — turquoise, apple green — was also selected in order not to upstage the restaurant’s natural beauty or detract from its easygoing vibe, Nordness says.
It should be noted that The Bedford’s destination décor doesn’t end in the common areas. The ladies’ room was intended to be one of the city’s best, Nordness says. Indeed, highlights include the original private banking booths that now serve as bathroom stalls and the funky lounge area with its wild chandelier collection and hot pink pincushion couch. I’d have to agree that the Bedford’s ladies’ room is one of the best — and you can take that to the bank.
1612 West Division Street
Chicago, Illinois 60622