Ex-Chicago Bear Israel Idonije’s New South Loop Sports Bar Will Open This Weekend

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Chicago chef and restaurateur Stephen Gillanders, lauded for his work at S.K.Y. in Pilsen; Valhalla, formerly of Fulton Market; and Apolonia in South Loop; is due for a very busy year.

Over the next 12 months, he aims to open a whopping five new dining and drinking establishments across the city, hitting the ground running this month with the debut of Signature, an upscale sports bar and restaurant that he’ll run with business partner and former Chicago Bears defensive end Israel Idonije who played for the team from 2003 to 2012 and again in 2014. The bar is opening this weekend.

Signature will kick off operations on Saturday, January 20 at 1312 S. Wabash Avenue, at last replacing Great Lakes-themed restaurant Harbor, which closed in 2021 due to pandemic turmoil. Its location near Soldier Field is no accident, as Gillanders and Idonije hope to draw fans and even players with top-notch cuisine and a lively atmosphere, they tell Crain’s. South Loop residents have for years voiced frustration over their limited dining options, so the arrival of a new venue with two well-known operators is welcome news for the neighborhood. Idonije has previously had projects in the area.

Of course, that is if the Bears even remain Soldier Field tenants. The team’s interest in moving to suburban Arlington Heights has been well-documented.

Gillanders promises a culinary lineup that’s more sophisticated than the usual cheese curds and crinkle fries seen at sports bars all over town. The goal is to strike a sweet spot that appeals to game-day customers and patrons on dates with options ranging from fancy takes on football fan food — think short rib nachos with cherry tomato pico de gallo and a smash burger with American cheese and yuzu pickles — to composed entrees of crowd pleasers such as steak frites, he tells Crain’s. The Signature staff are making those pickles themselves, as well as fermenting chilis for hot sauce.

Signature also aims to set itself apart with an ambitious bar menu that emphasizes classic and original cocktails. Infusions and syrups will also be made on-site — a rare move for a sports bar — and patrons can expect a brief list of wines by the bottle. There will, of course, be draft beer. Midwestern breweries will dominate the tap selection with imported brews offered by the bottle or can.

Great sports bars are plentiful in Chicago, with many local favorites leaning toward the divey end of customer experiences. There is a market, however, for those looking for something a little more comfortable, proven by the enduring popularity of Park & Field in Logan Square and the buzz around Monarch & Lion in Streeterville. But between its high-profile owners and a neighborhood thirsty for new options, Signature may be poised to come out swinging.

Signature, 1312 S. Wabash Avenue, Scheduled to open on Saturday, January 20.

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