Smyth + The Loyalist from Chefs John Shields and Karen Urie Shields announced Chris Martin as the new beverage director of the beloved Chicago restaurants. Martin will also oversee the entire bar program for both restaurants, as well as the management of the beverage teams. He will work closely alongside Chefs John and Karen to pair and develop drinks fit to match the acclaimed experiences of Smyth + The Loyalist. From inventory audits and bartender scheduling to menu adjustments on the fly and seasonally charged creations, Martin handles all aspects of beverage responsibilities to deliver an unforgettable dining experience.
Chris Martin expected to be a nurse when he first enrolled in college. “I took on a bartending job at Graze in Iowa City as a way to help pay tuition,” says Martin, “you can say I liked serving people way more because I was promoted to general manager and left my nursing program to pursue hospitality full time.”
It was there he learned the ropes of mixology, leading teams and listening to the wants of his guests. As simple as it sounds, what drew Martin into his career in hospitality and bartending was the people and connections he’s made along the way. “Lifelong friendships and even careers sometimes begin over a well made cocktail and a story or few,” he says.
His journey changed soon after and he was on the opening team at Pullman Bar & Diner, which earned Iowa’s Restaurant of the Year in 2015. Martin then lent his expertise to friends to open ReUnion Brewery shortly after award season in 2015. It was at ReUnion where he first developed a 20 drink cocktail menu fit to transform with the seasons. Throughout all of his initial experiences, there has been one unifying secret to success— if the last cocktail was good, the next could be great.
He was voted Iowa’s Top Mixologist in 2015 by Iowa Restaurant’s Association, and then became one of the Top 3 ‘Bartenders to Watch’ by Modern Art Magazine in 2016. He hitched a ride to Chicago in 2017 and became Bartender of The Aviary + The Office, which is how he first met Chef John Shields. It was there that he learned to craft more than 30 unique cocktails, making the most of the season’s offerings and developing clever ways to be as harmonious with nature as possible with his menus.
He next became the bartender and manager of Three Dots and a Dash, overseeing a team of more than 40 staff members and responsible for the development of the restaurant’s beverage program. “While I was there, I really learned how important it is to deliver outstanding service,” says Martin, adding, “the guest’s experience is all that matters.”
After nearly five years at the restaurant, Martin remembered an old friend he met along the way that opened a pair of restaurants in the West Loop known for proficiency and exemplary service, and thought it was time to reconnect. He now calls Smyth + The Loyalist home.
Diners should expect Martin to explore unexpected, seasonal ingredients in his cocktails, expanding his knowledge and sensibilities alongside the Shieldses. “I want our beverage program to feature the finest produce nature has to offer,” says Martin, “and I know the first place I’ll be looking for inspiration comes from our restaurant’s fridges and cupboards. After all, these ingredients are there for a reason. The Shieldses find inspiration from nature and its seasons, so why shouldn’t I?”
If there is an heirloom tomato salad on the menu, expect to find Martin preparing a tomato vermouth martini to pair. Like Martin quips, if nature bore it, use it.