Party Like It’s 2020!
The Robey Chicago’s chief eventeurs spill the deets on hot cocktails for fall weddings—and talk us through how the boutique hotel is pulling off stylish celebrations during the pandemic.
By Elise Hofer Shaw
As far as boutique hotels in the Second City go, The Robey Chicago is as cool as it gets. It’s located at the six corners in Wicker Park (read: no tourists). The building used to be the Northwest Tower (a.k.a. the Coyote Building)—designed and built in 1929 by the architectural firm of Perkins, Chatten & Hammond. It’s an Art Deco masterpiece—a true flatiron skyscraper that stands 203-feet tall at 13 stories. The street-level restaurant and bar, Café Robey, helmed by award-winning chef Kevin McAllister, has quite the local following for seasonally Midwestern comfort food dishes like duck hash with potatoes, poblano, charred onions and eggs, and creative sips like the ‘Oaxacan On Broken Glass’—a memorable mix of Banhez mezcal, Ancho Reyes chili liqueur, lime and Hellfire bitters. And then there are The Robey’s posh event spaces, including a killer rooftop with unparalleled, 180-degree views of the Chicago skyline.
History, architecture and elevated hipster vibes may be bringing engaged couples through the door for a tour of the event spaces, but it’s this chic hotel’s food and beverage program that’s been locking down weddings big and small. Here, Chicago Loft Venues chats with The Robey’s top eventeurs, Director of Bars Vanessa Beaderstadt and Food and Beverage Director Danny Park, about how the West Side hotel is responding to the pandemic—and why leveling up on cocktails for a smaller headcount is a micro-wedding trend with staying power.
CLV: In this new world of micro-weddings, why is The Robey a prime spot for petite I Do’s?
VB: Just like the Goldilocks story, we’re not too big and we’re not too small—we’re just right in terms of size for micro I Do’s. A lot of Chicago venues have these sprawling grand ballrooms outfitted with over-the-top chandeliers and other glitzy adornments. With the limitation on group gatherings being 50 people max right now, these venues will dwarf your wedding party whereas, at The Robey, we fit into this newly mandated size perfectly. Couples need to be asking themselves… ‘Do we really need to be investing in so much unused space?’ And ‘How much can I customize the space to make it truly our own?’ At The Robey, you get all of the historic architecture and those Bucktown neighborhood vibes yet our spaces will never push you into a themed box. Plus, with five tiered event spaces to choose from, there’s something to fit every party size—or you can have a progressive event that moves from space to space.
Another standout differentiator at The Robey is that all of our events are executed by teams of hardcore, pure-blood industry folks who are always at the ready to take your special day over the top. We all cut our teeth at some of Chicago’s most cutthroat restaurants and hospitality spots, so we know what it takes to take a wedding from ordinary to extraordinary, and how our unique behind-the-scenes roles need to play off one another to bring that magic.
My favorite spot within the hotel for a wedding is hands down The Up Room. With unobstructed views of the city in all directions, a rooftop bar, and carefully curated craft cocktails that can be served throughout the celebration, you just can’t beat it in terms of charm and wow factor. And because we’re so nimble, we can riff off-menu and customize signature cocktails. Just give us some key flavor profiles of what you like to drink and we will make it happen!
CLV: What pandemic protocols do you have in play for small affairs?
DP: In addition to added attention being paid to layout and logistics for social distancing, as well as strictly adhering to mask protocols, we’ve really zeroed in on all service aspects of the wedding. For food service, we will have a team member stationed at all buffets to serve the guests and limit touch points, and to ensure that the flow is spaced out. For bar service, the goal is to prevent crowding at an open bar, which is why we’ve opted for full cocktail service only. Servers take the drink orders, send them to the bar, and deliver the drinks to the tables or lounge vignettes. We’ve also set up sanitizing stations throughout our common areas and event spaces at key focal points so that all guests can quickly and frequently sanitize their hands.
CLV: Describe your ideal wedding setup at The Robey for, say, a 30-person celebration this fall—and take us through an example of the production and event flow.
DP: Like Vanessa, I’m partial to The Up Room for its layout, wraparound outdoor spaces and Art Deco architecture, in particular the Grotto—a secluded, private alcove nestled within The Robey’s bell tower. I mean, a wedding held on a private rooftop, high up on the 13th floor with sweeping views of the Chicago skyline—you can’t get more beautiful than that! Here’s what I recommend in terms of event flow…
CEREMONY: The entrance to the Grotto at The Up Room provides the perfect backdrop for the wedding ceremony. Imagine it: Your backdrop is the skyline and your immediate I Do photo frame is this beautiful bell tower. Meanwhile, your guests are comfortably fanned out on the outdoor open-air patio, being wowed by the views. Trust me. It’s awe-inspiring.
RECEPTION: During the ceremony, we’ll be busy prepping those craft cocktails and circulated bites so all is ready to go once you seal it with a kiss. Plus, it only takes us a mere 10 minutes to break down the ceremony chairs and flip the outdoor space for your reception so you can enjoy the full footprint in a matter of moments.
DINNER: All equipment for food services—tables, warmers, utensils, etc.—are pre-stationed well before the ceremony and activated as the reception portion of your event comes to a close. Once dinner is placed out, a team member will do the serving of the food as guests flow through the space, both inside and outside, to enjoy their meals.
AFTER PARTY: Amp up the party! Enjoy beverages, dance, take in the views, love life… and make some memories. With dinner service broken down, you now have 1,198 full square feet of indoor/outdoor party space for cocktailing and regaling. For music, I would recommend either a playlist or a small band. The Up Room ambience feels so intimate and luxurious that I don’t think a DJ truly brings the place to life the way it should be. If you go with a band, we would position them at the apex/corner of the Up Room near the Grotto so that everyone can take in the city views from every angle as they enjoy the celebration.
CLV: With weddings happening in Chicago at 50 people or less right now, do you think it’s wise to invest a larger chunk of your budget into a cocktail program that will wow? Why?
VB: As a som and the hotel’s director of bars, I’m of course biased towards a more robust cocktail program. But at The Robey, we’ve already raised that bar—and built beautiful craft cocktails into our seasonal events menu options. So when it comes to weddings at The Robey, my honest advice is to invest more into your dinner menu and appetizers along with perhaps spending a little more on entertainment if you have the bandwidth. At the end of the day though, it’s about knowing your audience and what will be most impressionable on them—and make you happy. And keep in mind that most venues, including The Robey, have a minimum spend required to hold an event within the space, which means that despite having a lower guest count, you still have a minimum spend amount to hit. If going over is an issue for you, we got you with entry-level sips that are already creative and conversation-worthy.
CLV: With summer winding down and thoughts turning toward fall, what cocktails from the small events menu standout to you for an early autumn wedding?
VB: At The Robey, we’re always working with fresh, seasonal ingredients that are culled from Midwestern farms whenever possible. For fall, it’s fun to infuse the cocktail menu with richer fruits, herbs, vegetables, syrups and spirits that amplify all those crisp, autumnal feels. Here’s a sips mix I highly recommend…
BADD APPLE: Absolut Apple Juice Edition vodka, cinnamon syrup, fresh ginger and sugar. Served in a copper mug and garnished with a lime wedge and a cinnamon stick.
CHAI CITY: Raisin-infused spiced rum, homemade chai syrup and lemon. Served in a coupe and garnished with a whole anise.
GROTTO NIGHTS: Coffee-infused rye whiskey, vanilla, Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth and Cynar liqueur. Smoked in a potion bottle with maple chips, poured table-side over rocks, and garnished with an orange swath.
PRICKLY PEAR BELLINI: Liquid Alchemist Prickly Pear liqueur and Prosecco with sliced strawberry garnish plus Liquid Alchemist Passion Fruit Bellini with lime swath. Topped with an Aperol Mimosa strawberry float and served in a Champagne flute.
CLV: There’s a huge mocktails movement happening in this city. In fact, many high-end restaurants have added an entire nonalcoholic beverage section to their menus—and are getting creative with the offerings. Do you recommend a few nonalcoholic sip options for guests?
VB: Nonalcoholics are definitely trending, and the more complex they are the more appealing to seasonal drinkers they become. Here’s the thing: Not all of your guests may be imbibers. And with good health topping people’s lists of priorities these days, some may be sipping less than usual—and looking for hydrating alternatives. But alcohol-free drinks don’t need to be boring. Here’s a trio of inspired mocktails to add to your fall event menu…
ROYAL POM: Pomegranate and cherry juice, mint syrup, lime and ginger beer. Served in a collins glass and garnished with a mint sprig and a dehydrated lime wheel.
TAMARIND GRIND: Tamarind and Chamoy syrup, lime juice and orange juice. Served in a rocks glass and garnished with orange slices that are dipped in tajin (a versatile Mexican spice made with peppers, lime and salt).
SUGAR DADDY: Caramelized pineapple purée, cinnamon, brown sugar, orange juice and lemon. Served in a collins glass and garnished with caramelized pineapple.
CLV: You mentioned that The Robey has removed the traditional bar setup for the time being, to discourage tight congregating, and opted for circulated cocktail service only to reduce touch points. Does this inhibit what you can pull off from the bar?
DP: Not at all. We’ve been working without the whole belly-up-to-the-bar scene for awhile now and it does not inhibit anything other than group gathering. You do lose that personal connection with the bartender, but if you are here for a wedding then you’re here to mingle with the attendees. What we are stressing right now is that everyone who is working the floor as cocktail servers must have a solid knowledge of the beverage offerings so that they can readily answer any questions that the guests may have.
CLV: Cocktail presentation can only go so far when weddings are really large. But for petite I Do’s, I imagine that there’s room for added ingredients and garnish. Can you give some examples of how The Robey’s mixologists can level up on craft cocktails when the event size goes down?
VB: Anything that is smoked, poured table-side from a unique vessel into a ‘drinkable’ one, or that incorporates dry ice for presentation purposes are fun extra steps that are feasible with smaller groups—and all are crowd pleasers!
The Robey Chicago is located at 2018 West North Avenue. For special event inquiries, contact Events Director Hannah Tyrrell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 872.315.3057. therobey.com