After nine months, a new restaurant has arisen at a prominent Fulton Market space where chef John Manion operated La Sirena Clandestina for seven years. Marvin’s Food & Fuel debuted Friday on the corner of Fulton and Morgan taking a low-key approach to the trendy neighborhood where restaurant behemoths like Alinea Group, Boka Restaurant Group, and One Off Hospitality Group have hung their hats. The restaurant is from the owners of Morgan’s on Fulton, the cavernous gallery and event venue.
Marvin’s is designed to function as a breezy and casual neighborhood spot with food from chef Mitch Cavanah (GT Fish & Oyster, Sink|Swim). His opening menu dwells on the familiar, with appetizers including grilled chicken wings (Thai chili glaze, mint, basil, peanuts) and a platter of pastrami made on site (sauerkraut, mustard trio, rye bread). Larger options include a selection of six sandwiches and burgers, including a vegan pulled-mushroom sandwich and skirt steak with burnt onions and garlic-whipped potatoes.
Designer and hospitality consultant James Geier owns the restaurant. He’s also behind the aesthetic at celebrated Chicago restaurants including Alinea Group’s Roister and Ina Mae Tavern & Packaged Goods in Wicker Park. As the pandemic brought the events business to a halt in March at Morgan’s, Geier needed to quickly figure how to stay afloat as a property owner with no rent coming in from a significant part of his building.
Geier says he’s spent the past six months planted in a window seat inside the former La Sirena, 954 W. Fulton Market, watching the outside world go by and contemplating his next move. He purchased the building around 11 years ago. He seized on the idea of a relaxed and cost-effective restaurant, something familiar to all kinds of diners.
Marvin’s dining room maintains the same floor plan as its predecessors La Sirena and Dino’s Morgan Inn Restaurant, but Geier has added two retractable garage doors on Fulton and Morgan to allow air to flow freely and thus appeal to a wider swath of diners. The restaurants also offers an opportunity to set up a catering wing for Morgan’s when events resume at some point in the future.
“It’s all about putting together that concept I always thought would be appropriate and approachable for the neighborhood — affordability, comfort, and inclusion,” Geier says. “Some of that isn’t here, and I know because I sit there [at the window]… I understand what’s there and not there, and what the community could use.”
A neighborhood approach complements the other restaurants in the area. Alinea turned to Geier so they could have an outdoor option during the pandemic. Chicago’s only three-Michelin-starred restaurant now operates on Morgan’s rooftop.
The drink list includes cocktails, canned and bottled beers, and wines by the glass and bottle. In a nod to that neighborhood sensibility Geier hopes to cultivate, playful imbibers can try classic ice cream drinks like Brandy Alexanders (brandy, creme de cacao) and Grasshoppers (Branca Menta, creme de menthe).
For the time being, Marvin’s can seat 25 inside and another 62 outside with social distancing. Geier has made some minor changes, like refinishing the walls and rearranging the back bar area, but he wants to maintain space’s character, accumulated over the years in the form of aged wood and metal, along with art from his gallery and items he’s collected over time.
Marvin’s Food & Fuel, 954 W. Fulton Market, Open 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday; 4 p.m. to midnight Thursday through Saturday.