Robin Room owner Chad Vogel and three partners have bought the former Mermaid Cafe and are turning it into a restaurant and bar.
Vogel said in terms of a name, they have "five in play and haven't been able to decide on one." The group hopes to have the renovations done and a liquor license in hand before opening in August, he said.
Vogel and partners Sean Pharr, Tom Cranley and Travis Knight closed on the building at 1929 Winnebago St., on Friday. They bought it from Lisa Jacobson, who had run Mermaid Cafe in that spot for 12 years.
The cafe was known for its banh mi and meatless banh mi sandwiches, along with breakfast sandwiches and the "Oh Mighty Isis," a breakfast favorite with eggs, cheddar, tomato, avocado and coconut curry aioli.
The new venture will be equal parts restaurant and bar, with Pharr developing the food menu. Pfarr has worked in a number of well-known Chicago restaurants and is currently the executive chef at Capitol ChopHouse next to the Hilton Madison hotel in Madison.
In Chicago, he was executive chef at The Bristol and chef de cuisine at NoMI. Originally from New London, Pharr began his career at Harvest on the Capitol Square.
Vogel said he and his partners are doing much of the construction work themselves and hope to begin the demolition this week.
Cranley, an original partner in the Roman Candle, is a carpenter and helped Vogel build the Robin Room. "The two of us are pretty handy," Vogel said, noting that they will hire subcontractors for the plumbing, electrical and HVAC system.
"For the most part, Tom, Travis, Sean and I can do a lot of the carpentry work," Vogel said. "There might be a side guy at some point. I'm not that good at it."
Vogel said the Robin Room, the popular cocktail bar he opened a year ago on Johnson Street, was a lot of work. And there was no way he could afford to do a new project by himself, both in terms of time and money.
He also owns the "Barmadillo," a movable cocktail bar in a 1950's silver Airstream trailer, which is most active in the summer. And splitting his time between all three would be a challenge if he didn't have partners, particularly during the opening phase of the new place, Vogel said.
"It's a year of spending 60 or 70 hours a week there," he said about launching a new business.
Vogel said they are seeking a restaurant license and intend to serve food until bar time.
The menu will be "vegetable forward" with shareable plates, Vogel said. "We want to keep the prices of the menu items as low as we can. And in order to do that, sometimes you need to cut down on the protein."
Proteins are becoming more expensive, he said, and many restaurants are making proteins a secondary item on a plate instead of the main focus.
"Like, do you need an 8-ounce steak? Or can we supplement some of that plate with more vegetables? And, of course, here we have access to some of the best vegetables in the world. As far as growers around here, they all know what they are doing."
Vogel said the menus Pharr has shown him so far have been 90 percent vegetables.
Where spirits are the focus at the Robin Room, with beer second, and wine third, the new place will probably sell all three more evenly, he said.
Still, Vogel foresees cocktails being the big seller on the drink menu at the new place because of his spirits background, and because there are lots of places to get good beer in the neighborhood already.
At 1,300-square-feet, the new place is slightly bigger than the Robin Room, which is just over 1,000. It will seat between 40 and 50 people.