BRIDGEPORT — Maria's Community Bar, already the darling of local and national nightlife critics, is about to get much bigger.
The bar and packaged goods store at 960 W. 31st St. is planning an expansion that includes a restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating, a second bar and a walk-up counter serving street food.
Casey Cora says the owners are confident they can keep the vibe of the bar intact:
"We just don't have a lot of restaurants in Bridgeport. We need a place in the neighborhood where people in the neighborhood can just come hang out," said Mike Marszewski, who now runs the bar while brother Ed focuses his efforts on expanding Marz Community Brewing, the startup nanobrewery that debuted last month.
They're seeking a zoning change next month to make the restaurant possible. If approved, demolition of the bar's indoor patio would begin in November, and the restaurant would open late next spring.
Marszewski said the new restaurant will have seating for about 70 patrons, including a dozen or so stools positioned at a second bar outfitted with taps for craft cocktails, ciders and beers.
To run the kitchen, the Marszewskis have tapped Won Kim, a 34-year-old chef who hosts beer-pairing dinners for Whole Foods Market and often teams up with Flesh For Food, a meatcentric, pop-up effort that travels to local bars.
Kim, of Wrigleyville, said his menu will consist of Asian-inspired street food, mostly in the same vein as the bar's popular Korean Polish BBQ series that highlights culinary curiosities like spicy, snappy grilled Polish sausage topped with kimchi.
"I guess you could call it fusion, but I think fusion is too fancy of a word. We're combining flavors. Imagine if you came home drunk and hungry and don't want to wait an hour for delivery or walk to 7-Eleven or get a burrito ... and there's Polish sausage in your fridge and sauerkraut and kimchi, and you combine it and see if it all works out."
Kim said he's planning to ask other Chicago chefs to make cameos in Maria's kitchen.
"What do they want to eat on their days off when they just want to chill?"
The new restaurant annex will be housed within Wicker Park-based Norsman Architects' designs, which features a "skylight vortex" on the roof, up to two "pivot" walls that swing open to combine the indoor and outdoor seating areas and an ambient light sculpture glowing along 31st Street.
Norsman said the restaurant is going to have "more daytime orientation," a contrast to the adjacent bar, which is dark and windowless.
"This seems like something that would, I don't know, be on the North Side or something," Marszewski said.
For the Marszewski brothers, the restaurant would be yet another accomplishment in an already action-packed year.
Beers from Ed Marszewski's Marz Brewing already are being poured at more than 20 Chicago bars, and the brothers say the brewery can't make enough to supply the demand.
Soon, they'll be adding more brewing equipment at their Halsted Street brewery — along with a low-key taproom for their small-batch beers — and a big production facility in Bedford Park.
The brothers said they didn't anticipate the quick success after tastefully renovating the dive bar their mother ran for years, "when the place was full of slugs, and there were fights," Mike Marszewski said.
Today, Maria's boasts a menu of more than 450 craft beers and earns praise from all over the place, including GQ, which just named Maria's one of the best bars in America.
"We started with 99 beers, and if that didn't work, we were going to turn it into just another sports bar," he said. "But it just took off."
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