Steppenwolf Theatre Announces Opening of New Café & Bar and 80-Seat Black Box Theater in Spring 2016

Pictured (left to right): Karen Herold, founder of Studio K; Kevin Boehm, co-founder of BRG; Anna D. Shapiro, Artistic Director, Steppenwolf; David Schmitz, Managing Director, Steppenwolf; and Rob Katz, co-founder of BRG, the team collaborating on the development and opening of Steppenwolf’s new café & bar. Photo credit: Joel Moorman.

Pictured (left to right): Karen Herold, founder of Studio K; Kevin Boehm, co-founder of BRG; Anna D. Shapiro, Artistic Director, Steppenwolf; David Schmitz, Managing Director, Steppenwolf; and Rob Katz, co-founder of BRG, the team collaborating on the development and opening of Steppenwolf’s new café & bar. Photo credit: Joel Moorman.

Steppenwolf Theatre Company announced today the opening of a new café & bar and 80-seat theater in the building at 1700 N Halsted St., which is connected to its existing main lobby. Collaborating on the new café & bar space are Steppenwolf’s friends and neighbors, Boka Restaurant Group (BRG), along with interior designer Karen Herold of Studio K and the design agency Grip, representing the best in restaurateurs, interior design and marketing. Slated to open in Spring 2016, the café & bar space will be a warm neighborhood hub serving artisanal coffee, espresso and tea by La Colombe by day while gradually moving to traditional bar service for the evening hours. A special bonus will be the menu curated by Chef Chris Pandel of Swift & Sons and Balena. The name, opening date and menu for the café & bar will be announced at a later date. Situated behind the café & bar will be a new 80-seat black box theater presenting a diverse array of programming, including Steppenwolf ensemble-based projects, comedy, music, solo performance, dance, visiting theater companies and more beginning in Spring 2016. The name and programming will be announced at a later date.

“We wanted to create a space that elevates the notion of what a full theatre experience can be,” shares Anna D. Shapiro, Steppenwolf Artistic Director. “Steppenwolf is a familial environment, and for a long time we have craved a comfortable setting where our audiences, artists, staff and friends can interact—the café & bar is the perfect solution. With the addition of a flexible black box theater we’ll be able to re-connect with our roots as a company, allowing more opportunities for our ensemble to experiment as well as welcoming new artists and genres, which is all very exciting. This building promises to be a cultural destination that everyone can enjoy. We have the best team in Chicago assembled, and can’t wait to open our doors to the community.”

About the café & bar

Steppenwolf Theatre will operate the new 2,500 square ft. café & bar, a creative space where guests can grab a drink, have a bite, or meet up with friends and collaborators, day or night. Boka Restaurant Group (BRG) has been contracted to lend their expertise and guidance in designing and opening the venue. Boka Restaurant Group, founded by restaurateurs Rob Katz and Kevin Boehm, is one of the premier chef-driven restaurant groups in the country and has opened some of Chicago’s most popular dining destinations, including Girl & the Goat, Balena, Boka, GT Fish & Oyster and Momotaro, among others.

“We have been friends with BRG since BOKA opened across the street, and for the past 13 years witnessed the transformation of the entire Chicago culinary scene as a result of their talent. Their consultation on this project has been invaluable,” shares David Schmitz, Steppenwolf Managing Director. “The café & bar will be a place that staff, artists, friends and neighbors can call home. Whether you’re looking to attend a show, or just have a drink and conversation, our café & bar will be an exciting addition to the Halsted Corridor dining and social scene.”

“There has always been a great symmetry between the independent spirit of Steppenwolf and Boka Group—us helping with this project is a natural fit,” shares Kevin Boehm of BRG. “The goal is to create something with two identities: an artisanal coffee shop with a menu created by Chef Chris Pandel, and a bar that evokes the spirit of O’Rourkes. Not only is this an added benefit for theater patrons of Steppenwolf, but it provides an element that the neighborhood sorely needs,” adds Rob Katz of BRG.

The interior designer for the café & bar is Karen Herold of Studio K. She has designed some of Chicago’s most popular restaurants, including Girl & the Goat, GT Fish & Oyster, The Betty, Maple & Ash and many more. Herold has fostered longstanding relationships with high profile clients, including the Boka Restaurant Group, who brought her onto this project.

“Our concept for Steppenwolf’s café & bar is based on the atmosphere of an artist loft—a curated, open space with lots of light, filled with an eclectic mix of handpicked items that have personal meaning and a mix of vintage and modern furniture. A centrally located square bar made with reclaimed steel will invite conversation. It will be a lovely space that seamlessly transitions from a relaxed café by day to a creative, hangout space at night. I have always been a fan of Steppenwolf’s work and it is an honor to collaborate on this project,” shares Karen Herold, Founder of Studio K.

Grip, one of the city’s top marketing and design firms, is developing the brand and messaging for the new space. “Developing an emotionally resonant brand means staying true to the people behind the experience. With the nature of a space taking on two separate identities, a natural theme is emerging: wherever the hands of the clock may be, find yourself here. Combined with high standards of the Boka Restaurant Group and Studio K, our job is to show—and say—how the very best part of your day or night will be spent,” shares Kevin McConkey, Grip partner.

About the new theater

The brand new 80-seat theater will be a casual, intimate and flexible space presenting a wide variety of genres and shows, from dance to live music to spoken word and beyond. The diverse programming will provide current and new audience members with a variety of multidisciplinary cultural experiences with the added Steppenwolf stamp of approval.

“Steppenwolf started as a group of friends performing risk-taking work in a small basement space in Highland Park. This new theater space echoes those beginnings, providing opportunities for our ensemble members to experiment in a black box setting without the pressure and restrictions of a mainstage run. It also opens the door to new, diverse artists, companies and a variety of performance styles, in turn welcoming new audiences into our home,” shares Shapiro.

Steppenwolf has established itself as the nation’s premier ensemble theater since moving into its current campus on Halsted Street 24 years ago. Currently, the theater operates three stages—the 515-seat Downstairs Theatre, 299-seat Upstairs Theatre and 80-seat Garage Theatre. With the new black box, the Garage Theatre will transition to an event and rehearsal space in Spring 2016 after the run of The Gift Theatre’s Richard III. The new theater will allow Steppenwolf to expand on the mission and programming of the Garage Theatre, presenting a wider representation of voices, including visiting companies and a mix of local and national artists.

“This building is going to be a social hub where everything new at Steppenwolf has its beginning—moving us closer to our ambitions of creating a cultural center like none other in Chicago,” adds Schmitz.

Steppenwolf’s café & bar and the new theater are part of Steppenwolf’s multi-year campus expansion plan. The phased campus expansion began in 2013 with the second floor renovation of the former Ethan Allen building at 1700 N Halsted into administrative offices. Construction is underway on the first floor of the building for the café & bar and the new theater. As previously announced, Steppenwolf continues to plan for additional expansion of its campus, allowing more flexibility by creating upgraded theater facilities, enhanced audience services and expanded producing opportunities. Additional details about the new phases of expansion to be announced at a later date.

About Boka Restaurant Group

Boka Restaurant Group (BRG) was founded by Rob Katz and Kevin Boehm in 2003 and has become one of the premier chef-driven restaurant groups in the country. Anchored by partnerships with six of America’s great chefs, BRG owns and operates Girl & the Goat and Little Goat with Stephanie Izard; Perennial Virant, Elaine’s and The J. Parker with Paul Virant; GT Fish & Oyster and BOKA Catering Group with Giuseppe Tentori; Swift & Sons and Balena with Chris Pandel; Momotaro with Mark Hellyar; and its flagship restaurant, BOKA, with Lee Wolen. BRG prides itself on its warm, friendly hospitality and the freshest, highest quality food in each of their locations. For more information on the group, please visit

About Karen Herold, Founder of Studio K

In 2014, Karen Herold launched Studio K, a multidisciplinary creative house in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood. Since its inception, Studio K has been busy designing Chicago-based projects and expanding its presence nationwide. Their ever-growing portfolio of clients includes the Chicago Cubs, Miami Heat, Sterling Bay, Core Spaces, Maple & Ash, Spiaggia and Monteverde, among others. As Principal of Studio K, Karen forms exciting partnerships with her clients enabling her to impart direction on all aspects of the creative process. Each of Studio K’s creations is timeless and eclectic with thoughtful consideration of details and layers rather than trends. In Fall 2015, Studio K broke into product design with the launch of The Brasserie Collection, an 18-pattern tile collection designed in collaboration with Sabine Hill.

About Grip

Grip is an idea and concept agency that specializes in creating meaningful connections between our clients and their customers. We craft brands, products, and experiences for companies we believe in. For almost 20 years, Grip has practiced a dedicated approach to evolving how we work. Servicing clients in a range of industries, our primary goal with every project is to achieve quantifiable results. Through the years this disciplined approach has honed our research skills and maximized the return potential for our clients. Our design team leaders have a breadth of knowledge that spans both online and printed environments. As a full service creative agency we constantly strive to add the highest value communication vehicles to our evolving skill set. That noted, perhaps the most telling statistic about our storied history is that we still work with our very first client.

About Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Steppenwolf Theatre Company is America’s longest standing, most distinguished ensemble theater, producing nearly 700 performances and events annually in its three Chicago theater spaces—the 515-seat Downstairs Theatre, the 299-seat Upstairs Theatre and the 80-seat Garage Theatre. Formed in 1976 by a collective of actors, Steppenwolf has grown into an ensemble of 44 actors, writers and directors. Artistic programming at Steppenwolf includes a five-play Subscription Season, a two-play Steppenwolf for Young Adults season, First Look, a new play development series and Visiting Company engagements. While firmly grounded in the Chicago community, nearly 40 original Steppenwolf productions have enjoyed success both nationally and internationally, including Off-Broadway, Broadway, London, Sydney, Galway and Dublin. Steppenwolf has the distinction of being the only theater to receive the National Medal of Arts, in addition to numerous other prestigious honors including an Illinois Arts Legend Award and 12 Tony Awards. Anna D. Shapiro is the Artistic Director and David Schmitz is the Managing Director. Nora Daley is Chair of Steppenwolf’s Board of Trustees. For additional information, visit, and