Tiny Hatt on the Riverwalk
Tiny Hatt bar and restaurant may be the first real neighborhood joint on downtown Chicago’s Riverwalk. The product of a budding union between Tiny Lounge and Big Hatt Gourmet, two of Lincoln Square’s most beloved establishments, it brings an upscale vibe and a friendly menu to an umbrella-lined stretch of the south bank between Clark and Dearborn Streets.
The venue’s Barrel Aged Cocktail list is a testament to the mixological finesse of Colleen Flaherty and Mark Johnson — two of the three partners — who began making specialty drinks at the Tiny Lounge long before the practice became a trendy staple.
“We were one of the first cocktail bars in the city, jumping into that sort of scene in the early 2000s,” says Ms. Flaherty.
At their new establishment, the most popular selection is probably the Subourban, a slightly dry and sweet blend of Jim Beam, Italian citrus liqueur Averna Amoro, Solerno Lemon, and Ginger Beer with a pinch of sugar.
The flavor and color compliment dusk on the river, when Ms. Flaherty most enjoys her job. “There’s nothing better than being able to serve people when they are ready to relax and their day is over,” she says. “They’re at their best.”
Beers include Rosa Hibiscus Ale from Logan Square’s Revolution Brewing, a pink-hued warm weather delight with a touch of the flower that gives it the name. The 5.8% alcohol content ranks in the middle of the potency scale, but that’s not the point, according to Mr. Johnson.
“It’s summertime,” he says. “We’re not trying to hit people over the head.”
It also reflects his customers’ tastes, which have changed significantly since he got into the trade at the Gingerman back when PBR was a thing in the 90s.
“It’s amazing to see how sophisticated the consumer has become,” he says. “They will think nothing of paying $12 for a beer. They might only have one of them, but they really appreciate the quality.”
The food at Tiny Hatt is exquisite, thoughtful, and easy to pronounce. The menu was created by Chef Craig Bell, a native Tennessean who started cooking in a small barbecue shop during high school.
Chef Bell studied at Chicago’s Cordon Bleu and worked in Spain’s Michelin-rated Zuberoa restaurant before launching Big Hatt Gourmet in 2009. He helped develop the Tiny Hatt concept with his future partners during a conversation in the Tiny Lounge.
The Tri-Tip Sliders feature thinly sliced brisket with pickled red onion, arugula, and basil Aioli on a pretzel bun. At two for $12, they’re tough to beat, but the Yardbird comes pretty close. A roasted chicken sandwich with Michigan black cherries, stone ground mustard, shallots, and arugula, it goes for $10. Other favorites include the Pulled Pork Sandwich and the Dr. Claw, a lobster roll with peppers, scallion, and lemon aioli.
All the beef and pork served at the restaurant is lightly smoked with apple and oak charcoal at Chef Bell’s kitchen facility on the north side. The process may take a bit longer, but that’s okay with the Tiny Hatt.
“Where I grew up,” he says, “barbecue and taking your time to eat and enjoying company was a social event.”