A defined concept propels a business into a brand.

The term “gastro-lounge” stems from the word gastronomy, which is a study of the relationship between culture and food. Jamie Uhlir relates this to the success and steady growth of his gastro-lounge, The Red Canary. Here, Uhlir shares his thoughts on how he and his partners created this successful restaurant concept, incorporating both atmosphere and satisfaction.





The Red Canary is a collaboration of imagination bringing equal parts of conceptualization and a unique sense of style.When my partner and I were touring possible sites for a restaurant, we fell in love with the River West area’s architectural aesthetics and our current location. It was mind blowing upon entering the 8,000-square-foot place that had creative potential all over the place. It had previously been a restaurant—but a complete 180 out from what it is today. But, we knew it had potential.

Visualizing the restaurant was important in creating the look and the feel. The very first weekend we had the building, we brainstormed in each of the rooms getting to know its feel. Sitting in each of the spaces, we felt the 30-foot ceilings, the brick walls, and the possibility of the balcony. The richness of damask fabric with its red-velvet hues and sensual appeal became the center of the design concept. It is comfortable and reflective of relaxation. We did a lot of the initial concept design ourselves, but did seek the professional services of an interior designer to complete the look we envisioned.

We literally came up with The Red Canary over the weekend, pulling together the look and feel of the prohibition era of the ’20s and ’30s with the idea of creating a menu that offered satisfaction and comfort. The concept isn’t about the gangster mentality widely associated with Chicago, but its energy and need for sophisticated indulgence.

Comfort food of the era seemed to naturally fall into place, being reminiscent of home-cooked meals that reflect the passion of family recipes and the idea of togetherness. No pretense, just come as you are.


“Providing a social-gathering spot that offers a unique and appealing venue, delicious food, and a relaxing ambiance is an important aspect of today’s patron. Going out is a choice in today’s economy, and affordable dinners and drinks in unique settings are vital to feeling good about where one chooses to mingle and socialize. It is especially important to provide top-notch service that makes a patron feel welcome and that their money is being spent in a place that wants them there—and wants them to keep coming back.”

The outdoor beer garden is a big attraction as well. The soft exterior lighting of the welcoming sitting area brings patrons together where everyone becomes part of a large patio party that is nonintrusive, but fun. It is seasonal, but keeps getting bigger and bigger each year.

Hiring a marketing/public relations firm was essential. Although we had the concept, we felt it imperative to draw on the talents of a PR firm to help effectively market the restaurant. As it is heavily influenced by the prohibition era, we wanted the old-school graphic feel that utilized old-era advertisements. Making sure that the concept and the execution stayed in tune with one another was very important to promoting the restaurant. It made a significant difference, especially since the PR firm we hired specializes in restaurant marketing, promotion, and planning.

Ultimately, The Red Canary was a grassroots effort. Being experienced restaurateurs certainly had its advantages, but knowing how to do things right and calling on the expertise of other professionals simply makes good business sense.