In the realm of Chicago hotspots, it’s not hard to see why Bavette’s Bar & Boeuf stands out. With a two-level space wrapped in what can only be deemed the sultriest of moods, this speakeasy-esque, French-ish steakhouse is a stunner dripping in low-hanging chandeliers that has bottled that je-ne-sais-quoi of excellent food and buzzy ambiance — stuffy service not included (a trait all Hogsalt establishments pride themselves on).
All of which makes a seat at Bavette’s — whether plush booth or a well-perched bar stool — one of the toughest seats to book in town. Luckily for you, you’re in the right spot.
You’re reading The One Who Keeps The Book, our regular series that aims to answer the most important of questions: How do I get in? The first answer is Resy, of course. But every restaurant manages its tables differently and there are always tips, tricks, and shortcuts to be discovered. So here, we go straight to the source to get them for you.
In Bavette’s case, that’d be general manager Bruce Cole and guest services director Corinne Talan. The duo generously divulged a host of pro moves, from the must-have menu items to what they deem the best seats in the house. And yes, what your best bet at getting those prime-time tables is, too. Read on for how to have the best night possible at this perpetual hotspot.
When do reservations drop on Resy?
Corinne Talan: We accept reservations up to 30 days in advance. Today is included in that 30 days, because a reservation could still be available for tonight, so today plus 29. They release at 9 a.m. central time.
How many seats are there at Bavette’s?
Bruce Cole: We have a total of 92 seats upstairs and 50 downstairs. And then, we have 26 bar and high-top seats on two floors.
How quickly do the prime-time tables tend to get booked out?
Cole: I watch it in the mornings. It’s between three and 12 minutes.
Are any of the seats held for walk-ins?
Cole: Yes. We have three walk-in tables, all of them are four-tops and are upstairs. And then we have both bars — our upstairs bar has 14 seats, our downstairs bar has eight seats — and we have three two-top high-tops on the backside of the bar. All available for walk-ins.
Your Cheat Sheet to Bavette’s
Plan Ahead: Resys drop 30 days in advance every day at 9 a.m.
Walk On In: There are a total of 40 seats available for walk-ins, spread out between tables, high-tops, and the bars on both floors. Show up before 5:30 p.m. if you want to be seated promptly!
The Layout: Head downstairs for the intimate parlor or upstairs for the buzzy dining room. (You can choose which floor to book on Resy.)
Prime Time: The busiest times are 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Thursday through Sunday.
Must-Orders: Steak tartare, bacon tomato salad, truffle mac and cheese, chocolate cream pie, any of the old fashioneds, and a steak, of course.
Pro Move: Ordering the fried chicken as an appetizer to share. Yes, you read that right. (Scroll down for the reason why.)
What’s the best time for a walk-in to come by to get seated promptly?
Cole: The earlier the better. On weekends, which are our busier times, getting here before 5:30 p.m., because that’s when our waitlist usually exceeds the hours we’re open. But if you’re not averse to standing at the bar with a cocktail, the bar seats turn pretty quickly, so I always advise people to grab a cocktail, hang out, scope out the bar, and see if anyone’s moving.
What are your busiest days and prime-time hours?
Cole: Prime-time hours are 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. and busiest days are Thursday through Sunday.
Talan: Monday through Wednesday are still busy, but the waitlist takes a little bit longer to start building and the bar doesn’t fill up immediately.
How many covers do you do on your busiest nights?
Cole: Close to 500.
Do you know how long is your Notify list on average?
Cole: It varies. Sunday it’s about 200, but the most I’ve ever seen is a little over 1,400. It’s daunting.
What about your least busy nights? Are there certain days or times when there’s a better chance to score a prime-time reservation?
Cole: Not really to be honest, the prime-time tables go quickly every day.
Talan: If you don’t get that initial booking when the 30th day opens, you have to get on the Notify list. We rely so much on that because people do cancel, it’s just a matter of when. I see a lot of people cancel the day before or even the day of. The Notify list is truly the best way to get a prime-time table; it just requires a little bit of flexibility and patience. What is online is our true availability.
Can you book tables for large groups?
Cole: We take up to parties of six. We only have three tables in the restaurant that fit six, two are upstairs, one is downstairs.
Any dos and don’ts for guests trying to get in?
Cole: Because our waitlist is in person, I would say a do is definitely to show up and put your name on the waitlist. The waitlist may sound daunting when you get a four-hour quote time, but that could potentially be a lot less. And we do text, to keep people updated as to where they are on the waitlist.
Talan: I wouldn’t say it’s a don’t, but because we only have three tables for groups of six and they’re all online for reservations, groups bigger than four are a hard party size for us to take as walk-ins.
Cole: And also, with the six-tops, they physically don’t fit more than six. It’s disappointing when someone shows up with seven or eight people, and they’re like, “Oh, we’ll just squeeze in!” and it’s like, “I’m so sorry, you really can’t, I can show you the table,” and people are like, “Oh.” Usually in those situations, we try to get the seventh-plus guest a seat at the bar. It just depends on how busy we are.
Are there any other ways to snag a table?
Cole: Other than the waitlist, no. That waitlist is the strongest way to go if you’re looking for a table on a busy night.
What’s the best seat in the house?
Cole: We have two floors. Both play different soundtracks, so a lot of people really enjoy one floor versus the other. I love both for different reasons. The high-tops and the bar on the back wall are my favorite spots upstairs because you can see the whole dining room, you get a beautiful view. Downstairs, my favorite spot is the sofa. It seats three but there’s a chair, so you could do four, and a small coffee table. If you’re having appetizers and drinks, it’s in the middle of the room, you get all the great energy, a view of the bar … You’re in the center of the room.
Talan: My favorite spot is at the parlor bar, which is downstairs. It’s so intimate down there. Just the way the room is laid out, it’s the perfect bar to be at. It’s really lovely.
Can guests request a specific table in the guest notes on Resy?
Talan: You can book the dining room or the parlor [and make it] specific to that floor. Beyond that, if you want a booth or a standing table, we always take those requests into consideration. While we can’t guarantee any specific table, we do our best.
It’s Friday night at 7 p.m. Can you set the scene for us on both floors?
Cole: Upstairs is definitely going to be energetic. We play some great jazz standards there. It’s lively: there are more seats, the bar is bigger, there are a lot of people moving around, bringing food, and pouring wine. Plus, the kitchen is up there and it’s open, so it’s got a great view. It’s one of my favorite moments of the week, on Fridays and Saturdays, just seeing how busy it is, how everyone’s moving.
Downstairs, it is a little bit more intimate, a little bit darker. It’s a different soundtrack, it tends to be — I don’t want to say “chill,” but — more laid-back. It’s in stark contrast to the upstairs. It’s kind of a nice little oasis coming down here.
Talan: I always find it sweet when people who have been to Bavette’s a bunch of times didn’t know that the parlor existed. Because it’s down a flight of stairs, it’s really like you’re transported away, and they’re always excited when they find out there’s more to the restaurant than they realized.
What are the dishes first-timers absolutely have to order?
Cole: Oh my gosh, how many things can I tell you?
Talan: Don’t skip the bread.
Cole: Yes, you’re going to start with our housemade sourdough bread, which is iconic. Every table starts with it, it’s delicious and amazing. I eat way too much of it, but maybe don’t print that [laughs], the baker’s going to read that and be like, “That’s where all our bread is going. Bruce is eating it.”
For appetizers, I’d say steak tartare and our sleeper hit salad, the roasted tomato on bacon: beautiful beefsteak tomatoes that are roasted, watercress that’s simply dressed with olive oil and salt and pepper, and there’s a couple bites of our delicious maple-glazed bacon with black pepper on top. It’s wonderful. If you’re going lighter, there’s a crab-stuffed avocado salad that I love.
The New York strip is my favorite steak on the menu, but since we are a steakhouse, I want to go another way. I think our fried chicken is a sleeper hit. I’ve been here about a year and a half and when I was training, I was fortunate enough to train in all positions, and one of the servers — and this stuck with me the whole time — said that the varsity move is ordering the fried chicken as an appetizer and sharing it, so you can still get an entrée and have both. Anytime I talk to tables, whether I’m seating a table or greeting one, I have to tell them, “I think you should order the fried chicken as an appetizer. You’re going to thank me later.” I always get handshakes and “Thank you so much!” I even got a hug once.
What’s a must for sides and dessert?
Cole: Truffle mac and cheese, you gotta have it. And the chocolate cream pie. No one’s never not liked the chocolate cream pie.
Talan: Even if you are not a chocolate person, it’s not too chocolate-y. It is just divine.
Cole: Cocktail-wise, we’re know for old fashioneds. They’re all delicious, but the Caribbean old fashioned has quickly become my favorite. It’s finished with pineapple rum, which is not always in stock, it’s very hard to get right now. But if we do have it, that’s the old fashioned to go with.
What’s your favorite time of day at Bavette’s?
Cole: Ooh … I think my favorite time of day is when we open the doors and people start coming in. We’ve spent the whole day prepping, getting everything perfect, making sure the lighting’s right, the music’s right. And then, to be able to open up to all our guests and really feel like we’re hosting a big dinner party … That’s my favorite part.
Any other tips or tricks for making the most out of a night here?
Cole: If you have the time to come in a little bit early, starting at the bar, having a cocktail, and just enjoying the scene, before moving on to your table is a great move.
Anything else you’re excited about or would like to share?
Talan: This just makes me want to go to dinner tonight [laughs].
Cole: In the Resy guest notes and in the contact email form, I get so many awesome stories, like, “My husband proposed to me here,” or, “I met my girlfriend at Bavette’s.” We had a guest the other night that had a specific table request downstairs in the parlor. It was where he had proposed to his wife seven years ago — it was their anniversary, they had booked, and he had sent me an email the day before. And we were able to get him that table. He was so blown away; it was full circle for them. It’s being able to make the magic happen.
Bavette’s Bar & Boeuf is open from 4 to 10:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 3 to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and from 3 to 10:30 p.m. on Sundays.