Dining at Navy Pier was once a joke with fast food dominating the famous tourist attraction known for its giant Ferris wheel and slow-moving crowds of outsiders. But over the past two years, pier officials decided to change that and added more local flavors like Original Rainbow Cone and Brown Sugar Bakery.
Now the biggest touch has arrived in the form of a new flagship restaurant. Chef Art Smith’s Reunion is open next to the main pier entrance. It’s a southern restaurant with fried chicken, salads and sandwiches. Smith, who opened a restaurant with a similar menu (Homecomin’) in Orlando at Disney Springs, says he hopes his restaurant will attract more than just tourists. He says he’s staying in Chicago indefinitely to make sure the launch goes smoothly where the volume is high. But the jury, of course, is still out on whether Reunion can exceed tourist trap expectations.
Creating an inviting dining room is key for Smith, who says she’s always dreamed of being an ambassador. It’s something he did as a champion for LGBTQ rights. He traveled to Europe earlier this year and spent time in Portugal. He says he had the opportunity in May to hoist the rainbow flag over the US Embassy in Lisbon.
Navy Pier is not quite an embassy, but it represents a gateway to Chicago. Smith wants to create a cozy environment with cocktails, CBD baked goods, and more. The reunion will be a work in progress, and Smith wants to add “the best drag brunch in Chicago”: “Something wonderful, really blow it up and be fun,” he says.
Staffing has been an issue at Disney and Chicago. Smith acknowledges that the restaurant business is a bit of a gamble in the current environment, but says he and his partners George and Manolis Alpogianis (America’s Dog & Burger) are up for the challenge.
“They wanted a name, and that’s why I’m here,” Smith said. “I’m excited.”
Take a ride in the space below. Chief Art Smith’s meeting is now open.
Chief Art Smith Meeting, Navy Pier, 700 E. Grand Avenue, (312) 224-1415, open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; From 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, reservations via OpenTable.