Movie roles and record sales just aren't good enough for celebrities these days. From beverages to perfume, stars (and their handlers) are all about brand diversification. Enter the name-backed restaurant. While Chicago has, for the most part, been spared, we wondered: What restaurants at home compare to the hottest celeb-owned spots on the coasts?
The celeb: Usher
The hot spot: The R & B hotshot recently made headlines for his on-off-on-again marriage to Tameka Foster, but we find news of investment in The Grape franchise more interesting. Usher is backing the Inman Park, Atlanta, location of the wine shop and lounge concept--a sleek spot featuring purple walls, modern chandeliers and curved, metallic bars.
Chicago's alternative: While the decor doesn't quite sync up, Usher's retail/lounge concept made us think of West Town's Juicy Wine Company
. Owner Rodney Alex features an excellent wine list--available to-go or to stay--and an open pantry hawking everything from pate to olives with lots of cheese in between. The large, cozy booths and DJ-spun beats upstairs are as smooth as some of Usher's singles. And we dig the cork walls, as opposed to obvious shades of grape paint.
The celeb: Justin Timberlake
The hot spot: Justin Timberlake's Southern Hospitality opened mid-July in New York to much fanfare, most of it centered on the fact that his place, with its cafeteria chairs, neon beer signs and posters, is shooting for low-key barbecue joint rather than fancified celeb spot. Good luck, JT
we're guessing any place done up in wood trucked up from the Deep South might escape some as "casual."
Chicago's alternative: Maybe a visit to Wicker Park's Smoke Daddy
, where low-key translates into checkered floors, raw blues acts and authentic 'cue--all sans celebs--would help inspire. That said, we might get a dose of the hottie's hospitality some day, as Chicago is rumored as a potential site for JT's future brand expansion.
The celeb: Ashton Kutcher
The hot spot: Mr. Demi Moore has his hands in a few restaurants thanks to a relationship with L.A. restaurant team The Dolce Group, but it's his appearances with his wife at Geisha House in Hollywood that have fans buzzing. What's Geisha like? Picture a darkened lair trimmed in Japanese fabrics, natural woods and glowing lanterns, the whole bi-level space awash in red light.
Chicago's alternative: Miae Lim's riverfront industrial space, Japonais
, gives off the same sexy vibe, from its high-quality (and high-price) sushi to its many secluded nooks. True, Geisha House might attract A-list celebs 10-to-1 over Japonais, but if the bulk of them lived in Chicago instead of Tinseltown, they'd be dining here. How do we know? Hollywood's royal couple, Bradgelina, was spotted at Japonais earlier this month.
The celeb: Jimmy Fallon
The hot spot: Mo Pitkins is the sort of hip joint that gives New York City's still-somewhat-gritty East Village its appeal. Just don't tell any of the too-cool customers "SNL" veteran Jimmy Fallon backs the retro-inspired spot. Gasp--how commercial!
Chicago's alternative: The splashy neon sign, the Art Deco flair, the semi-circular booths and the creative Jewish-Latin menu at Mo's remind us of newcomer Fat Cat, already destined to be Uptown's go-to spot for cocktails and satisfying eats after shows at nearby Aragon Ballroom and Riviera Theatre. Fat Cat might not be a true supper club like Mo Pitkins, but the mixed-use space has the same high-energy vibe, and menu items like the towering Reuben have plenty of chutzpa.
The celeb: Jennifer Lopez
The hot spot: J. Lo is all about embracing the Latin community these days--cue her last full-Spanish album, "Como Ama una Mujer." But her Pasadena, Calif., restaurant Madre's has been celebrating her heritage since opening in '02. Guests are treated to a shabby-chic interior featuring whitewashed wainscoting, antiqued paint, weathered drapes and crystal-laden chandeliers.
Chicago's alternative: J. Lo's spot reminds us of Chicago's own flashy entry into pan-Latin dining: DeLaCosta. The decor isn't exactly faux-mansion, but the vibe is similar, from the plush banquettes dotted with attractive guests to the solid menu that jumps from Cuba to Mexico with confidence.
[ Fred Schlatter is a Metromix special contributor. ] email@example.com
Chicago alternatives to hot celeb-owned restaurants on the coasts
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