From Trendy to Traditional and Yep! Even Family-Friendly
What makes a quality wine bar? Is it selection, ambiance, clean glassware? Yes, but also a little something for those who can pronounce sommelier as well as those who keep trying. Another consideration is the company you keep, which means quality and selection should extend beyond just the wines. Which Chicago wine bar fits your needs? Whether you’re looking to celebrate, enjoy an early glass with your family dinner, or acquire a knowledgeable palate, one of these four Chicago wine bars are worth toasting.
If you’re out to celebrate in style in Chicago, (or even jeans and a tee–café only) Bin 36 and Bin café are marvelous places to begin. My first time in the café, we sipped flights at the intimate bar, which felt more like my kitchen island. Although it’s small, I prefer to think of it as comfortable, unpretentious, and welcoming. Not only were the bartenders friendly and fun, we almost missed noticing Chicago-native Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins) dining and drinking with out the disturbance of fans in Chicago’s Bucktown/Wicker Park. Artsy and chic, trendy yet somehow classic (just like the Wicker Park/Bucktown Neighborhood), the atmosphere alone is enough to satiate your needs, but just in case order some House Made Fries because the garlic aioli is simply… yummy.
Commitment-phobes and those looking to expand their tastes will love the variety of flights offered at ths wine bar with titles to make you giggle, like “It’s All About Me Reds” to the mood-setter “Sexy Reds”. Cheeses may be more suitable while sipping, but I can’t resist the White Pizza with wild mushrooms, garlic, and pecorino cheese. What’s even better? The menu takes all the guesswork out of choosing a wine by listing complimenting bin numbers with each item. Although both Bins open the cellar doors to newbies, the only thing wine-enthusiasts could possibly whine about is the fact that they can’t impress you with their knowledge of niche-specific vocabulary. I would suggest letting them inform you about a wine’s “legs” though, if to understand why a sniff and swirl can make your experience more enjoyable.
Next door to the House of Blues in downtown Chicago, Bin 36 offers the same chef and same style as the café; however, the wine bar’s list more than doubles and the menu (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) offers twists on classic comfort foods, like Bandage Wrapped Cheddar mini grilled cheese sandwiches and Spanish Mac & Cheese to a more sophisticated Lobster Club and gooey Traditional Val d’ asota Fonduta. Although the lunch and dinner menus differ, I’ve always found the servers and kitchen happily accommodate “off-the-menu” requests if you know to ask.
What I love about Bin(s) most is how they could very, very easily make you feel like a wine-knowledge idiot, they don’t. Instead of a traditional sommelier title, the Wine Director and Assistant Wine Director titles make the only exercise for your mouth focus on undulating over and under the subtle and/or complimentary differences of the wine flights. And I really can’t thank those directors (Brian Duncan and Michael Burke) for introducing me to a refreshing and different form of dessert:Brachetto d’Aqui, “Rosa Regale,” Castello Banfi, Piedmont, Italy. A juicy red, sweet and effervescent little number difficult to find elsewhere, while remaining completely affordable, is available at both locations.
Frasca Pizzeria offers specials, outdoor and indoor seating, and is a family and child-friendly establishment in Chicago’s Lakeview/Roscoe Village neighborhood. Monday night offers ½ off glasses of wine and Wednesday nights are buy one, get one pizzas. The children’s menu offers grilled cheese, pizza, and pastas and includes a drink and a scoop of ice cream for only $5.00. Just under 100 vins grace the list (red, white, bubbly, even sangria) and flights for each category allow you to sample a few different styles and regions. There are minimal French, Spanish, Argentinian, and American vintages; Frasca’s plentiful list favors Italian grapes. Does this really matter if the kids are happy?
On the Old World Farmer’s Table menu, you’ll discover sweet, sharp, and creamy cheeses served with bread and homemade jam. The Farmer’s Table is also where to find a bruschetta for all tastes from brie and apple to mushroom, goat cheese, and truffle oil as well as a selection of cured meats. My favorite dish is the rigatoni with fennel sausage, spring peas, and a tomato cream sauce, closely followed by the pork Milanese served with fingerling potatoes, baby arugula, and lemon jus. There are several pizzas, but if you don’t find one that suits you, you can choose from a variety of cheeses, meats, and veggies to make your own.
Romantic evening out? Webster’s Wine Bar is perfect for date night.
It’s even located perfectly for date night across the street from Webster Place Theater in Chicago’s DePaul neighborhood, easily making it perfect for before or after catching a movie. Everything about the downstairs seating area, bathed in candlelight, oozes the excitement of a first date or helps rekindle your romance. Sommelier Jeremy Quinn trots the globe to provide the “traditional” French, Italian, and Spanish wines with countries your average Joe wouldn’t know to associate with wines: Lebanon, Croatia, and Slovenia.
For those who enjoy sampling before diving into a glass, flights like “Spicy Reds” or “Aromatic Whites” offer two ounces of three different wines from those served by the glass. With 35 wines served by the glass and over 500 by the bottle, the phrase “something for everyone” seems insignificant to describe the depth and breath of the selection. I love the wine list’s description of the 2004 Rutherford Ranch, Zinfandel, Napa “A classic ‘beginner’s Zin’, with green peppercorn spice, notes of fresh date and golden raisin and anise & a dry finish” because it allows wine access for beginners. At $30 for a bottle, it’s perfectly priced for beginners too.
These top four Chicago wine bars should keep you toasting with friends, dates, or family.
Cheers, Salut, L’Chaim, Prosit…