The Rich Textures of Chicago's Willow Room Play Off Its Prohibition Past

When a historic building is the setting of a new restaurant, it goes without saying that it's best for the current tenant to pay its respects to the past. Chicago's Willow Room, which is set inside a landmark in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, is part of that unspoken rule. The site was once the home of Schulien's Tavern, one of the few taverns that remained open in defiance of prohibition, and so Nicole Alexander of Siren Betty Design rightfully aspired to "play off the integrity of the building," she said. The space opens into a main dining room with large windows and a stained red oak floor, where brass fixtures contrast honey brick walls dotted with found and original art. And down a narrow flight of stairs, an underground lounge lined with plush velvet booths surrounds a low bar and a stocked wine cellar. It's just the type of scene that would fit in perfectly with yesteryear, although chef Marissa Janz's modern take on classic American eats still ensures that today's guests leave satisfied.

Willow Rm. Main dining room
5 Photos
credit: Andrew Melzer

With long bench seating upholstered in deep sapphire next to walnut tables by VERO Design + Build, the main dining room is dramatically elegant. Siren Betty Design custom made the lighting.

Deep blue fabric bench seating and artwork collage
credit: Andrew Melzer

"The building has classic Chicago architectural detailing, so we wanted to make sure we highlighted those elements," said Alexander. Found pieces and original drawings by the firm's artist Susan Williams hang on the walls.

Dramatic bar with red seating
credit: Andrew Melzer

The bar has an "Ella" marble counter top from Cambria and plush red chairs custom made by Richardson Seating. The hanging light bulb fixtures were created by Siren Betty Design.

Downstairs basement dining area
credit: Andrew Melzer

Warm lighting, brass, and plush seating offset the rough brick walls, which Alexander wanted to "soften" with details.

Bar and lighting in basement dining area
credit: Andrew Melzer

Red oak flooring was stained grey in the lounge, and a wine cellar behind the bar acts as storage and decoration.