Finding a quiet place to chit chat in the City of Chicago can be quite challenging-especially on a weekend night during just about any time of the year. So, if you’re interested in a calm place to dine and sip on wine, you might consider scheduling your date or girls night out on a weekday. Now, if you don’t mind crowds, lots of chatter, and challenging parking situations, you can head out to any of the wine bars on the list below on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night. Fortunately, no matter when you decide to go, there’s a wine bar here for every style and budget.
Let’s start with The Tasting Room. Located at 1415 W. Randolph, The Tasting Room is a bit off the beaten path, but once you’re there, you won’t mind spending the better part of your night sampling wine and noshing on nouveau-American comfort food. For starters, The Tasting Room offers free parking. Yes, free! This is rare to non-existent in the City of Chicago, so TTR gets points for customer appreciation and convenience. If the parking lot is full, you can always park on the street which appears to be meter-free on the south side of Randolph. Next, there are several dining options. Patrons may sit on the neatly arranged sidewalk patio, they can choose to sit at the elegant downstairs bar, or you may choose to settle into the comfy couch seating on the main floor or upstairs. The upstairs seating is excellent at night as it offers gorgeous views of the city from every angle.
The atmosphere at The Tasting Room is considered semi-upscale to upscale, but approachable. The crowd is a mix of mature, established couples and groups of friends as well as youngish professionals. The wine isn’t cheap and the food is well worth the price tag. So, if you’re on a budget, you might want to try Webster’s Wine Bar. More on that later. Let’s talk a bit about TTR’s menu. The 25+ page vintage encyclopedia-style wine menu offers wine by the taste, by the glass, and by the bottle. Elaborate wine flights are readily available as well – of course.
Wine flights bear cleverly conceived names such as Leg Warmers, Tight Rolled Jeans, and Trucker Hats. Flights feature creative combinations from New Zealand, Italy, California, Australia, Spain, France, Austria, and Oregon – to name just a few. Try the Bodegas Benegas Sangiovese, Mendoza, Argentina, Red (2007) or Saint Clair Family Estate, Marlborough, New Zealand, Sauvignon Blanc (2008).
If you don’t consider yourself a wine connoisseur, and you need help choosing a flight or glass, the TTR staff, clad in black and armed with above average knowledge of wine, will be glad to help you select the best flight for your taste. In addition, the staff will suggest the best bites to savor with your flight. The Tasting Room offers cheese flights, if you’re interested in something light, and satisfying meals if your appetite calls for dinner. TTR offers wild game, catfish, ribs, flat breads, and fondue prepared by executive Chef Marc Kuchenbecker.
Although wine is the main attraction here, The Tasting Room offers a nice selection of top shelf Vodka (Effen, Chopin, Ketel One), cocktails (martinis and more), and craft ales such as Matilda on tap, Chimay, Samuel Smith, and Ayinger brau weizen. Scotch, bourbon, rum, and whiskey are plentiful as well. If you discover a wine or two that you’d like to enjoy later without leaving the comfort of your home, head over to the adjacent retail store and pick up a bottle. The Tasting Room has a working winery onsite.
Tip: The downstairs bar has flat screen TV on display (might be a turn-off for some). Also, call ahead on weekends if you are interested in drinking and dining in the upstairs lounge. The Tasting Room rents this space for wedding receptions and other events, frequently.
The Tasting Room Contact and Hours: 1415 West Randolph Street, Chicago, IL 60607, 312-942-1313, www.thetastingroomchicago.com. Hours: Monday-Friday 5 p.m.-1 a.m., Saturday 5 p.m.-2 a.m., Closed Sunday. Price: $$$
Webster’s Wine Bar
Head back north to Lincoln Park where you’ll find a casual and lively wine bar called Webster’s Wine Bar. Just over the bridge from Chicago’s popular Green Dolphin Street, you will find a budget-friendly, “come as you are” type of bar where large groups, couples, and girlfriends gather for good wine and tasty eats. You can sit on the outdoor patio which looks out onto Webster Avenue or you may choose the main floor bar, dining area or head to the upstairs dining room.
During the day, finding a place to park on the street is fairly simple, and finding a place to sit either inside or out is even easier. As the sun begins to set, the rustic interior dims, and a single candle is placed one each table, giving the space an intimate feel. Some patrons complain that the music is too loud, but the bartender is always willing to adjust the volume to accommodate all guests.
Webster’s offers dishes such as duck leg and rack of lamb. The menu also offers soups, salad, pate, pizza octopus, steak, and smoked salmon. Try the Scottish Smoked Salmon with Dill, Lemon, and Creme Fraiche with Toasts $8. Or, order the huge plate of garlicky hummus and a stack of pita wedges for a cool $4.50. If you’re just there to nibble and sip wine, order a wine flight and cheese.
Webster’s features domestic and international cheese. Patrons can choose from cheese made with organic cow milk from Weybridge, aw goat milk, raw sheep milk, and raw biodynamic cow milk from Hawthorne Valley. Choose from more than 35 wines by the glass or more than 500 by the bottle. Try the Chardonnay Flight which features three two ounce taste portions for $10.50. Webster’s also offers a impressive beer list that includes beers such as Allagash, Unibroue, Kiuchi, and Half Acre.
Webster’s Wine Bar is located at 1480 West Webster, Chicago, IL 60614, 773-868-0608, www.websterswinebar.com. Hours are Sunday 4 p.m.-2 a.m., Monday-Friday from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. and Saturday from 4 p.m.-3 a.m. Price: $$
Volo Restaurant Wine Bar
Head a bit further north to Roscoe Village and you will find one of Chicago’s best kept secrets – Volo Restaurant Wine Bar. The main attraction here during the summer months is the restaurant’s outstanding cabana patio. This loungy backyard features a lush garden, water elements, and a century old barn. The patio can get extremely crowded on weekends, so it’s best to visit during the week – early! If you can’t squeeze into a space on the patio, don’t worry, the inside dining room is ambient and cozy. The sidewalk patio is comfortable as well and it looks out onto the lively Roscoe Village strip. Volo is neighbor to Kitsch’n, Riverview Tavern, Thai Linda, and Robey Pizza Kitchen.
The food at Volo is pretty good and the prices are even better. So if you are budget-conscious, you can order a few flights and food for two for less than $100. Grab a high-top table or cushy banquette and order a French, Italian, Spanish, Bubbly, or Pinot Noir flight. Add a spicy cheese flight such as the Covadonga. Next, you can try several small plates such as the sweet beet salad (delicious), sweetpea flatbread (the first bite is an explosion of hot spiciness), and the garlicky mussels. Other menu item items include endive apple salad, roast veal marrow bone, steak, oysters, duck confit, pork belly, and octopus. By the way, the Pinot Flight is excellent and the “taste” portion is huge. All for $16.
The food at Volo is filling, but not to the point where dessert is out of the question. The chocolate plate is a favorite a well as the strawberry rhubarb tart. Share a coconut truffle, caramel bar, peanut butter cup, dipped chocolate chip, and hazelnut truffle with date or friends. You simply cannot eat all of this chocolate alone! As for the tart, you will appreciate the presentation and separate components. With a small scoop of ice cream on the side with the tart as the centerpiece, weight watchers can enjoy the flaky tart, sweet rhubarb, and fresh strawberries without the fat.
Volo is located in Roscoe Village at 2008 West Roscoe Street, Chicago, IL, 60618, 773-348-4600, www.volorestaurant.com. Hours: Monday-Thursday 5 p.m.-12 a.m., Friday-Saturday 5 p.m.-2 a.m., Sunday – open for special events. Price: $$