A Tapas Legend Turns 30

New restaurants open practically every day in Chicago, saturating the market with anything and everything any customer could ever crave. Niche restaurants and bars fill out our neighborhoods and draw diners and drinkers from near and far, everyone hustling to get a taste of what's hot and new. In light of this feverish formula in which the Chicago restaurant industry operates, there's something incredible about an enduring restaurant that still draws crowds to rival the hottest new restaurant, even 30 years after opening. Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba! helped pave the way for a new era in Chicago dining, marking a huge success for a burgeoning restaurant group, Spanish cuisine, and the local dining scene at large. To celebrate this momentous occasion, Chicago's original tapas restaurant is hosting a series of events from January 18 through January 27, spotlighting the Lincoln Park restaurant's history, signature dishes, loyal guests, and new specials courtesy of chef Matt Holmes. 


Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba!
Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba!; photo by Anjali Pinto

Here's a rundown of specials and events to partake in at Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba! later this month:

From Monday, January 18, through Sunday, January 24, Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba! gets back to its roots with a variety of menu classics at original 1980's pricing for happy hour at the bar. The deals are available from 4:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m., plus 10:00 p.m. until midnight on Friday and Saturday. 

On Tuesday, January 19, Holmes lays out a pintxo bar crawl to pay homage to Spain's coastal city of San Sebastian. Guests can "travel" from one table to the next on the restaurant's year-round patio, sampling varied bite-sized pintxos created especially for the occasion. There will also be passed appetizers and a cocktail station. The cost for this event is $35 per person. 

To round out the series on January 27, Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba! will feature a multi-course menu showcasing traditional tapas dishes paired with Spanish wines. The event begins with a reception at 6:00 p.m., followed by dinner at 6:30 p.m. Tickets for this are $55 per person. 


Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba!
Anniversary specials abound at Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba!; photo by Anjali Pinto

Additionally, Holmes has rounded out his menus with some off-menu specials available during the duration of the celebration. Get hungry for caramelized goat cheese with red onion puree and membrillo honey; arroz negro lobster croquettes; poached shrimp pintxo with lime and coconut foam; asparagus and black truffle with grated egg; and others. 
All of the above serve as an apt ode to a restaurant that became a legacy for Lettuce Entertain You, Rich Melman's Chicago-based company that has gone on to become one of the country's preeminent restaurant groups. He helped conceptualize Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba! alongside founding chef Gabino Sotelino, who christened the tapas restaurant together on December 26, 1985. 

- Matt Kirouac