Run, Don't Walk to This Frank Lloyd Wright-Inspired Bar in Chicago

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By Amy Phare / Photos by Amy Janchenko
East meets Midwest at Prairie School, a cocktail haven for architecture buffs that touts a noteworthy beverage program by mixologist Jim Meehan.

At the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, Frank Lloyd Wright first crossed paths with the art of Japanese woodblock printing, a little-known interest that became a lifelong passion of collecting and art dealing for Wright—and eventually led to a Tokyo office and a new philosophy of Japanese-influenced modern architecture that would endure for decades to come.

So when designer Kevin Heisner ran into mixologist Jim Meehan at Bar Radio in Tokyo, it was only natural that the Midwestern natives would conjure a project that would honor their hometown design hero: Prairie School, a lounge in Chicago’s Fulton Market. Two weeks later, Heisner was en route to Japan on a quest to properly pay tribute to Wright’s work. 

Run, Don't Walk to This Frank Lloyd Wright-Inspired Bar in Chicago - Photo 1 of 11 - Designer Kevin Heisner designed and fabricated the custom, stained-glass barstools.

Designer Kevin Heisner designed and fabricated the custom, stained-glass barstools.

And it didn’t stop there. From Kyoto to the Guggenheim to the Frank Lloyd Wright Trail in Wisconsin, the duo did their research before embarking on a venue that melds Asian influence and Midwestern warmth. The project would be accompanied by a deliberate cocktail menu from Meehan—of Manhattan’s James Beard Award–winning speakeasy Please Don’t Tell fame. 

But to design a lounge based on the work of America’s greatest architect is one tall order. Rather than replicating Wright’s designs, Heisler Hospitality founders Heisner and Matt Eisler worked hand-in-hand with Meehan to ensure Wright’s organic architecture informed every aspect of Prairie School, from atmosphere and design to hospitality and beverage. That meant adopting a natural palette and organic materials, rooted in time and place. 

Run, Don't Walk to This Frank Lloyd Wright-Inspired Bar in Chicago - Photo 2 of 11 - "Looking at the stained glass, I started there and scaled up," says Heisner. "I wanted to create great scale with no seam, so it doesn’t feel like a door."

"Looking at the stained glass, I started there and scaled up," says Heisner. "I wanted to create great scale with no seam, so it doesn’t feel like a door."

Run, Don't Walk to This Frank Lloyd Wright-Inspired Bar in Chicago - Photo 3 of 11 - The inspiration for the glass entry design was a reference to the pattern of one of Wright's windows.

The inspiration for the glass entry design was a reference to the pattern of one of Wright's windows.

And that place is Chicago—a world-class city with humble, working-class roots. "We take what we’re doing seriously, but not ourselves seriously," says Prairie School bar manager Kristina Magro. "It’s still Chicago; it’s approachable. We’ve thought about everyone." That means Midwestern hospitality and a heavy dose of good design, whether you’re a tourist in for the novelty or an architecture buff relishing the many design details. 

"You experience that seamless hospitality from the beverages to the first time you look in from the outside," says Heisner. "All of those things were thought about, but it doesn’t feel contrived." Heisner—an architecture school dropout turned artist, designer, and general contractor—brought to the project a holistic perspective with his understanding of industrial design and material selection, not to mention a native knowledge base, with roots in the same zip code as Wright.

Run, Don't Walk to This Frank Lloyd Wright-Inspired Bar in Chicago - Photo 4 of 11 - The Prairie School menu relies on Japan’s 24 short seasons, or sekkis, to influence the ever-rotating, hyper-seasonal selections.

The Prairie School menu relies on Japan’s 24 short seasons, or sekkis, to influence the ever-rotating, hyper-seasonal selections.

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