When Chicagoans shake off this winter, when they retire hashtags like #ChiBeria and #AntarcDitka and see more of strangers on the street than the three-inch gap between their hat and their scarf, chances are many will welcome the return of warmth at Parson’s Chicken & Fish. The hip Humboldt Park eatery has operated like an idealized backyard BBQ since opening last May, serving up incredible fried chicken and fish and potent, potable Negroni slushies to the mobs jockeying for patio space. While the art of al fresco dining is at work, smart design has also contributed to Parson’s stature as a sure-to-be-swamped destination when the mercury goes north of 60.
Renovations, which started in October 2012, actually brought the space full circle; originally an outpost of the Chicken Unlimited fast food chain ("Tender as quail … tasty as pheasant"), the former restaurant at 2952 W. Armitage had been a bakery and even a muffler shop. For the local collective Land & Sea Department—Pete Toalson, designer Cody Hudson (Struggle Inc.) and Jon Martin and Robert McAdams (design and fabrication company Mode Carpentry)—bringing back the fryers was their second foray into the restaurant world, after the incredibly successful, Michelin-starred Longman & Eagle. While it wasn’t necessarily a smaller scale, the concept and design by Land and Sea Dept., and drawings and plan sets by Space Architects + Planners, led to a flexible, seasonal spot, with an interior sporting roadside-industrial chic and an outdoor Eden with plants from local gardening store Sprout Home.
The relatively small, 1,500-square-foot restaurant, which feeds the packed patio on the bulk of the 10,000-foot lot, is augmented by a series of three shipping containers-turned-bars. Reusing that material—which also falls under the city's classification for 'temporary structures'—has significant environmental impact, saving material and money. With a total renovation budget of $1,015,000 ($525,000 of which went toward buying the land), getting more use out of the containers opened up more options, as did using low-cost material such as painted cinder blocks. It helped guarantee that some of the $375,000 that went towards building and construction was used for "impact" items like the tile mural at the bar, custom patterned wooden doors in the bathrooms, neon signs and the impressive design work. Lettering and graphic artists Matthew Tapia created the skull-and-crossbones style logo, Hudson himself did the graphic design and Ryan Duggan, a designer and rock poster artist, decorated a red El Camino parked in the front yard. With small touches like the lettering at each bench, it all adds up to an inviting, energetic space, encouraging guests to linger and make one more run for pitchers of cold cocktails.