Melissa Elsmo/Food Editor Preparing for opening day: Training at Kettlestrings Grove gives staff insight into an assortment of craft cocktails made with lesser-known spirits.

Expanding on their neighborhood-focused restaurant concept, the local folks behind Kettlestrings Tavern, 800 S. Oak Park Ave., have transformed a quirky Pleasant District space into a duo of distinct eateries. Located in the former home of La Bella, Kettlestrings Grove, 105-107 S. Marion, is poised to open on Wednesday at 4 p.m., while its sibling establishment, Betty’s Pizza and Pasta, 1103 South Blvd., is still a few weeks from opening. 

Rob Guenthner and Katie Ashton, Wil and Justine Greenwald and Pete and Fran Lisnic, founders and co-owners of the Kettlestrings establishments, aim to create comfortable dining experiences that give a nod to Oak Park founders, Joe and Betty Kettlestrings. The section of land the Kettlestrings laid claim to in the 1830’s was known by several names including, Kettlestrings Grove. 

After minimal renovations to the diminutive Marion Street space, Kettlestrings Grove is set to begin offering thoughtful cocktails and substantial shareables suitable for enjoying as a pre-dinner outing or full meal replacement. Seating will be offered on a first come, first served basis at the upscale cocktail lounge with a speakeasy vibe.

“We had good success when we created a neighborhood tavern,” said Guenther. “We thought it would be interesting to see what we could do with a cocktail bar.”

Guests will appreciate the craft cocktail program overseen by Dan Swartz, Kettlestrings’ operations director. The program highlights lesser-known spirits and liquors in creative ways. Guenther singled out the Joe Amaro as a “must try” offering; the cocktail is designed to celebrate the natural bond between bourbon and chocolate. Colorful bottles of French Citadelle gin, Ha’Penny rhubarb gin, Tres Generaciones tequila, Redwood Empire rye whiskey, and D. George Benham’s vodka line the shelves behind the bar in artful fashion and suggest the entire menu will be filled with unexpected twists on tradition.

Diners should expect to find an array of chef driven dishes conceptualized by Tanya Baker. She is the former executive chef at Boarding House in Chicago (now closed) and 2015 James Beard Rising Star Chef-of-the-Year finalist. She now oversees kitchen operations and menu development for all three Kettlestrings establishments in addition to working as a private chef.

For Kettlestrings Grove, Baker has developed an edited menu of thoughtfully sourced charcuterie, small plates, and rotating specials. Opening day menu offerings include blistered shishito peppers and Brussels sprouts with Kewpie Mayo, lemon confit, fried shallot and bonito flakes as well as tuna tartare with cucumber, pickled radish, serrano pepper, chili sesame oil and taro root chips. While there are braised beef cheeks on the menu, vegetable lumpia, beets and greens and fried polenta bites with crispy mushrooms, pecorino and truffle will please vegetarians. The Grove Board will feature a rotating assortment of cheeses including options like Rogue Creamery Smoky Blue, Marieke Truffle Gouda and Délice de Bourgogne and charcuterie offerings like Tempesta Nduja, Olli Calabrese Salami, and Smoking Goose Guanciale.

Guenther teased a forthcoming art installation that ties back to the history of Kettlestrings Grove. As the weather warms patrons should expect to find sidewalk dining opportunities to complement the comfortable indoor seating.

“We began discussing this project in June of 2021 and it has taken longer than we thought it would,” said Guenther. “But we are ready to hit the ground running!”

Ultimately, Kettlestrings Grove will share a kitchen with the restaurant group’s third establishment, Betty’s Pizza and Pasta — expect New York style pizza to arrive on South Boulevard in a matter of weeks. In the meantime, plan to visit Kettlestrings Grove for elevated cocktails and chef-created bites. The bar is open Tuesday through Thursday 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday 4 p.m. to midnight, Saturday 2 p.m. to midnight and Sunday 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Kettlestrings Tavern remains open on Oak Park Avenue.

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