The idea to pop up in Chicago stemmed from a shower thought Kayoko had in early 2018. I got a text message from Kayoko that said "Let's do something in Chicago!" This is how things come into fruition at Umami Mart - ideas pop into our heads and we start running with it. I hadn't been to Chicago in over 20 years, but the state of Illinois always called to me. My dad's first place of residence in the U.S. was Skokie, IL, and my partner is from Illinois. But what sealed the deal is that we have a lot of online customers from Chicago AND it's a great cocktail city!
However, a few questions loomed for us: what would an Umami Mart event look like in Chicago? How could we connect with our people there?
Over the years, we kept up correspondence with Caitlin Laman, who used to manage Trick Dog in San Francisco and moved to Chicago a few years ago. There, she became the Beverage Director at Ace Hotel Chicago.
We took our questions to Caitlin and Claire (Cultural Engineer) at Ace Hotel Chicago and came up with the idea to open a five-day pop up in the private dining room Eaves, in the hotel lobby.
Our pop up coincided with AIGA's annual Chicago Design Week. During our five day pop up, we hosted two events, the Kanpai Launch Party at the pop up space, and a seminar called Riding the Wave of Japanese Bar Tools + Whisky where together with Caitlin, we discussed Japanese cocktail culture.
Ace Hotel Chicago is located in the West Loop, where there are tons of places to eat and explore. Kayoko and I hardly left the two block radius during our week long stay.
Good morning Chicago! I took a glorious walk downtown before we started setting up. The Chicago weather gods were good to us during our whole stay. It was beanie weather but clear most of the time we were there.
Kayoko and I made ourselves at home at Ace Hotel right away. On Thursday, we began setting up the pop up shop. Kayoko priced the glassware and took inventory.
I installed the decals on the plywood boards we got custom cut.
Decals were also installed on the windows to the Eaves room.
The first day of our pop up was very smooth. Kayoko and I opened our doors, as promised at 11am.
We loved the Eaves space that was visible from the main room of City Mouse, the lobby diner at Ace Hotel Chicago.
That night, we welcomed guests to our Kanpai Launch Party with a splash of Ichinokura Mukansa Honjozo and Himezen Umeshu.
Special guest, Tequin who used to visit us in Oakland.
Kayoko and I visited the bar at City Mouse for an impromptu photoshoot. There, the bartender whipped us a luscious Martini in our Kimura Mikumi glass.
We opened an hour early to match our hours to the Shopscura Market happening in the Mahoney Room.
The market featured an array of local makers specializing in celestial goods.
The scene was lively.
The whole Umami Mart team arrived Monday. We made the obligatory pilgrimage to Portillo's and stuffed ourselves with goblets of beer and Chicago dogs.
We went out with a bang on our last day by hosting Riding the Wave of Japanese Bar Tools + Whisky with Caitlin at Waydown on the rooftop bar at the hotel.
In addition to covering how Japanese bar tools differ from tools in other countries, we tasted a few Japanese whiskies.
Caitlin capped off the seminar with a demonstration of using the bar tools for a couple cocktails.
Kayoko and I were captivated by Caitlin's demonstration.
Kayoko and I generally have a hard fast rule about pop ups – we don't do them. But something in our gut told us we couldn't shut this idea down. We met so many great collaborators and customers during the pop up. Building a community in Chicago was so dynamic and satisfying – we could not have imagined the turnout and positive responses we got from Chicago!
We feel like we've made a little home in Chicago and hope that we will be back again soon.
This pop up would not have been possible without the supportive staff at Ace Hotel Chicago (Alison, Claire, Caitlin, Justin, and all the kind folks at City Mouse who kept us well-oiled with coffee), Ichinokura Sake Brewery, Mars Distillery, our friends, and family. Thank you for all your support!