Hawksmoor co-founder Will Beckett feels like he should have some highly strategic reason for opening an outpost of the celebrated UK-based steakhouse chain in River North, but he says he just really likes Chicago.
“Since we first started, we’ve just done stuff that we find really exciting,” Beckett says. “We’re in this really beautiful position at the moment where we get to open restaurants in world-class cities and we enjoy the challenge of it all.”
Hawksmoor made its U.S. debut in New York in 2021, but the Chicago restaurant opening in summer 2024 in the LaSalle Street Cable Car Powerhouse will have more in common with the location in London’s Borough Market. That space across the pond served as a fruit warehouse and auction hall in 1932, and some of the columns are much older than the building, made of ship-breaking lumber. Hawksmoor leaned into the space’s industrial feel, searching for contemporaneous reclaimed materials such as giant lamps from a railway station in the Netherlands.
“I really love working with buildings that are part of the fabric of the city and have a real history to them,” Hawksmoor co-founder Huw Gott says.
The three-story, 16,500-square-foot space at 500 N. LaSalle Street dates back to 1887 and Gott has been looking at historic images of the time for inspiration for the restaurant’s interior.
“There will be some exposed brickwork and an amazing arched ceiling, but we’ve also been working hard to elevate that and restore as much as we can and introduce new elements that draw on the Golden Age of Travel,” or the 1950s and 1960s, he says.
Beef for the Chicago restaurant’s steaks, served sliced in hot cast-iron skillets, will use the same East Coast and Midwest supply networks Hawksmoor set up for New York, while placing special emphasis on Midwestern family-owned farms that provide high animal welfare standards and practice regenerative agriculture. All of Hawkswmoor’s beef comes from cows raised without hormones or antibiotics that spend most of their lives pasture grazing. You can regularly find 100 percent grass-fed meat available as a blackboard special with further details on the farm it comes from.
The focus on small suppliers also extends to Hawksmoor’s beverage program; when the chain opened in Dublin, Ireland, in May, they collaborated with local brewers and distillers. The management team is currently digging into Chicago food, cocktail, and spirit history to build a menu that feels true to the region.
“Our first restaurant outside London was in Manchester, which I think is quite similar to Chicago in the way it feels about itself and the vibe of the city,” Beckett says. “Someone said to us ‘Don’t do that thing that people from out of town do and just reach for the easiest thing you could possibly think of to make it feel like you’re local.’”
Beckett has taken that advice to heart so will be eschewing the Prohibition-style cocktails and reference to Al Capone that provide easy touchstones for someone who lives 10,000 miles away. Hawksmoor will have a separate menu for its first-floor bar, which will likely include a burger and oysters as well as some Chicago-specific options.
“We wanted to retain that flexibility so people can use this space in different ways at different times with different types of people,” Gott says. “The bar can just help bring a bit of energy to the room and enable people to use it slightly earlier in the evening and come back later in the evening.”
Drawing in customers for more than just special occasions and business dinners will help fill Hawksmoor’s biggest space to date. The Chicago location is almost twice the size of Hawksmoor New York. While they joke about fueling rivalries between the Big Apple and the Windy City, the decision to go so big mostly came from the passion that Gott — a self-described transit geek — had for the LaSalle Street building.
“It’s got a history that we really enjoy in a place that we really like and we’re just trying to make it work,” Beckett says. “We adapt to the building; we don’t expect the building to adapt to us.”
Downtown Chicago has plenty of famous restaurants and Gott and Beckett dream of Hawksmoor joining its pantheon of iconic steakhouses.
“We’ve just really enjoyed going there and soaking up the history, the atmosphere, and the beef lore in some of the amazing steakhouse institutions and seeing what we can take away from them,” Gott says. “Wouldn’t it be amazing to fast forward 50 years and have Hawksmoor Chicago feel like a Chicago institution? We don’t want to copy and paste what we’ve done before but create something that really feels right for the city.”
Hawksmoor, 500 N. LaSalle Street, Scheduled to open in summer 2024.