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The safety deposit boxes remain intact; it’s not like the construction crews could drill through the vault, but visitors will feel a different spark inside the former bank that the Cauldron, a London-based chain of wizardry-themed pubs that conjures culinary “magic” with science and technology, now occupies.
The former Bedford, 1612 W. Division Street, has new lighting and furnishings, but the layout remains the same for this bar that has no official affiliation with Harry Potter, yet has the distinction of being called a Harry Potter bar.
Co-founders Matthew Courtland, a self-professed fantasy obsessive, and bartender David Duckworth operate five locations in the U.S. and U.K., but their 10,000-square-foot Chicago outpost — divided into three discrete sections — is their largest and most ambitious. “Each space is different, so it’s kind of like a nightclub where you go from room to room discovering things,” says Courtland. “We want to do for fantasy what [has been] done for science fiction. We want to make this real and part of our future.”
The Cauldron’s biggest bang comes in the form of its “Potion-Making Experience,” ticketed classes where patrons don robes and wield sensor-based wands as they learn to brew cocktails (or non-alcoholic alternatives) that smoke, bubble, and change color. Housed in a room that evokes a quirky English cottage with large wooden work tables and twee wall art set slightly askew, the sessions put an immersive spin on the standard cocktail class by highlighting the brand’s proprietary wand tech that can turn on lights, open cabinets, and activate drink taps. “It’s kind of like high school chemistry class but safe, drinkable, and alcoholic,” says Courtland.
There’s also a wall of taps with fantasy hunting trophies — including a unicorn’s head. These taps activate when a “magic” coin is placed in the appropriate slot on the mount. Drinkers can hold a glass by the head for a pour.
Patrons get to imbibe the fruit of their magical labor.
In addition to its size, the newest location will include the chain’s only speakeasy-style bar, housed inside a safety deposit vault tucked deep inside the 1920s-era building. Appropriately dubbed the Vault, the gleaming copper-hued room is lined with more than 4,000 safety deposit boxes (each party gets to choose a key and win a prize) and, thanks to a partnership with CH Distillery, features a selection of 10 to 12 Jeppson’s Malört-based drinks for a taste of the darkest magic Chicago has to offer alongside a selection of classic cocktails. There’s also a stage and piano for live music, but there’s no word yet if patrons can expect to hear Elven hymns of Rivendell or Harry and the Potters.
Three, of course, is a magic number, and the Cauldron rounds out its trifecta with a walk-in bar and restaurant that plays along the vague lines of “British food” with playful interactive elements. Fish and chips, for example, are sprayed with sea salt and appear on a bed of hot river rocks atop whiffs of dry ice smoke; sweet braided “Elven Bread” comes wrapped in a banana leaf and trussed up with string. There’s also a private room with shelves of special tchotchkes including a menu from the Bedford.
Chicago has, rather unexpectedly, become a destination for an increasingly wild and nerdy contingent of fantasy and magic-inspired pop-ups and venues, but the depth and detail at the Cauldron appear, thus far at least, to be unmatched in the city. Explore Wicker Park’s new potions palace in the photos below.
The Cauldron Chicago, 1612 W. Division Street, scheduled to open Thursday, May 4.