It’s a Thursday night and all conversations are muffled by the sound of a pianist playing Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are.” For the loyal patrons of Gemini Bistro — which closed in January for a modern reboot revealed late last month — the live music is just one of the changes to the space. There are now exposed wood beams, undressed windows, daily specials written on a butcher paper scroll and a 25-seat U-shaped bar.
The menu got some updates as well, but as far as the ambience, it still has that cozy neighborhood feel. “We remember your name, and if for some reason we forget, we remember that you drink Chardonnay,” laughs Pauly Graves, co-partner with Ryan O’Donnell (Coda di Volpe). “Making you feel at home — that’s our shtick.”
Here’s what to expect at Gemini (which lost the “Bistro” in the revamp):
Back to basics: Executive Chef Miguel Ortiz (Maple & Ash, Rustic House) wanted to stay true to the restaurant’s old classics, including the burger ($16) made with a house-made take on Thousand Island dressing, the mini wedge ($13) with buttermilk ranch embedded under each layer of lettuce, and the steak frites ($30) plated with a port wine sauce and bone marrow butter. But there are a few updates: If you loved the short rib ravioli on the old menu, try the new hand-rolled oxtail agnolotti ($18).
Sound of music: Seven years ago, Graves and O’Donnell met Michael “Stu” Stoinski, a.k.a. Stu the Piano Guy, at Mastro’s Steakhouse. “We rekindled with him and said, ‘I think the town would like to hear ‘Do You Like Piña Coladas?’ at a certain time.” So they booked Piano Stu for every Thursday night, and extended the bar menu hours on Thursday-Saturday until midnight, to keep the place upbeat.
Long story short: Graves goes back in time for the cocktails. The list — appropriately named “Storied Cocktails” — includes a personal anecdote for each drink. Try the San Pancho ($12), concocted with Montelobos mezcal, Milagro tequila, pineapple, lime and habanero bitters.
Child’s play: While interviewing for the job, pastry chef Patricia Kim (Taus Authentic) was asked to make a dish reminiscent of her childhood. The result? A pot de crème topped with a chocolate crumble and two housemade Oreos ($11). “We took a bite out of it,” Graves remembers, “and it was like that ‘Ratatouille’ moment where we remembered the first time we had it.”
Open Sunday-Thursday, 4:30-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday, 4:30-11 p.m., 2075 N. Lincoln, (773) 525-2522; Geminichicago.com