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redeyechicago.com

Next: Now open for business

By Lauren Viera

9:44 AM CDT, April 6, 2011

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Last night, the ticketing system for Next, Grant Achatz's highly anticipated new era-themed fine dining restaurant, was still experiencing glitches, despite promises that today -- er, yesterday -- was the day.

"We are burning the midnight oil here trying to figure out some last minute snags," was the Facebook verdict just after midnight Tuesday. The rub: Next's complex online ticketing system, the only means by which reservations can be made for the venue's staggered seatings, wasn't taking to Internet Explorer.

In the six hours that followed, there must have come a point when partner Nick Kokonas said, To hell with it.

"We've been up all night for days making sure that every thing that can go wrong doesn't," Kokonas said via telephone this morning, his voice charged with the adrenaline of the final hours of a lengthy charette. He admitted he's slept about five hours over the past three days.

"We had to make a decision two days ago whether or not we'd go, OK, it's stable on all these other platforms [beyond Internet Explorer]. Do we risk putting it out and having 25 percent of the Internet not use it? I sent [Microsoft corporate] a jokey email around 4 a.m. saying, 'Can't your people just do something?' It's proven to be as interesting and big of a process to build this [system] as it was to build the restaurant."

Internet Explorer be damned, Next's ticketing system went live around 6 a.m. this morning. But the restaurant is likely to be booked quite literally for years, given the number of people on its waiting list for tickets. Kokonas said that the day of last year's James Beard awards, May 3, marked the launch of Next's online waiting list for tickets. One thousand signed up the first day. As of today, 19,000 individual requests for tickets have been accounted for.

"I don't want to use the word 'surprising,' because you always plan for good things to happen," Kokonas said of the public's reaction to Achatz's sophomore restaurant. "For two years, you have this notion of, Let's try to book something differently. And when the whole world tells you it's a really stupid idea, you either go, 'No, damnit, it's actually a good idea,' or, 'Oh my gosh, I'm terrified.' I'm actually a little bit of both right now."

Next opens to the public tonight with the culinary theme Paris 1906: Escoffier at the Ritz. At least one table per night will be available first-come, first-served for non-ticket holders, to be arranged via Next's Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Achatz's bar Aviary, originally scheduled to open simultaneous with Next, will open within 7 to 10 days, according to Kokonas.

Next, 953 W. Fulton Market; nextrestaurant.com