City Winery Chicago opened with great fanfare on August 15th with 1,000 guests that included Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who took a lengthy tour with City Winery owner, Michael Dorf. The Mayor who is an enthusiastic music fan told Dorf he intends to return to see “many shows” in the future.
The building dates to the early 20th century and was formerly a refrigerated food distribution warehouse. In only a few months it has been transformed into a contemporary winery and hospitality facility, featuring reclaimed original wood beams, masonry, brick and arched openings. That it was up and running so quickly establishes them as a major promotion - oriented venue.
City Winery Chicago, the city’s newest concert venue, restaurant and only fully operational winery, is the first City Winery outside of the original SoHo, New York property – both owned by veteran music impresario Michael Dorf. He said that, “City Winery in New York has found a niche serving a sophisticated music fan in a classy, sit-down full service environment. New York has been a success since inception and City Winery 2.0, as I refer to Chicago, is manifesting the perfection of this concept. The physical layout and design is fresh and exciting. The viewing of the winery operations from any angle in the restaurant or music room is unique, and offers old wood beams and brick walls and arches juxtaposed with a fresh and modern interior design. There probably is not a nicer small venue anywhere in the country.”
Our group (Barbara, Leon, Jackie and Steve,) however, was here to celebrate an anniversary and experience the very first Klezmer brunch at City Winery Chicago. Each week, the Klezmer Brunch Series is featuring different artists, to showcase the genre’s range. All of us like Klezmer music but we were also curious about the food.
Stepping inside, we were surprised at its large size, clean lines and open spaces. From the large entry area there were entries to two restaurant - performance spaces, an area for making wine and a small, cozy area for teaching and special wine events.
Our group was shown to our table at about 11:00 AM when the Chicago Klezmer Ensemble comprised of: Kurt Bjorling, clarinet, accordion; Joshua Huppert, violin; Eve Monzingo, "tsimbl"; Joseph Spilberg, contrabass, began playing, The brunch service does begin at 10:00 AM. We enjoyed the music of the Chicago Klezmer Ensemble finding it lively and pleasant and not interfering.
Once seated, we enjoyed the coffee that was “amazing”. We were told it is a proprietary three beans montage prepared by Sparrow, nearby. Sparrow is roasting in the heart of Chicago with Zero Pollution and the Lowest Carbon Foot Print of any Coffee Roaster in the Midwest. Sparrow says. “More than just another elixir, our selections are grown with reverence preserving our ecosystems and honoring our lands and soil. Our sourcing empowers the farmers who grow our coffee with just wages and mutual respect. Our hybrid green roasting treats the community we live in with the same regard as the remote mountainous villages we traverse.”
Carmen, our server, took our orders of potato latkes, pancakes, fritatta and pastrami and eggs. As everyone tasted everything, our assessment was the latkes were “like my mother used to make”, “individually made, crispy and flavorful”. The pancakes were multigrain and the maple syrup was very good. The frittata was flavorful and the pastrami and eggs were balanced with a small salad and multigrain toast.
Next to our table there was a large group of people who appeared to be celebrating. When I asked them if they were I was told they were celebrating friendship. In fact, I learned that I was talking with Jerry Dorf, owner Michael Dorf's father. He and his wife, Harriet, had driven in from Milwaukee to Chicagofor the day to hear the Klezmer group and enjoy brunch. After a while boxes of certified kosher meals from Hungarian Kosher were delivered to the Dorf table. These include lox and bagel, side salad, and fruit, and can be ordered prior to the brunch. The order goes in at the end of the week before the following brunch.
A friend of mine was at the brunch with her friends from out of town. They are familiar with City Winery New York and when they arrived they said the City Winery Chicago looks just like the one in New York. My friend wondered if one could just walk up and get tickets for brunch and I learned that “If one shows up without a reservation for brunch they can certainly buy a ticket at the door (subject to availability).”
Ryan T. Monahan, venue manager, came by to see if we had any questions and began to tell about the wine – this is a winery. Production has not yet begun in Chicago but by spring there should be some amazing wine. As harvest season arrives, forty tons of grapes gathered from up and down the West Coast will be hand picked early in the morning and trucked to Chicago by nightfall to begin the winemaking process. For now, wine served in Chicago is coming from New York. Since opening in 2008, City Winery New York has produced 1400 barrels of wine (nearly 1,855,000 glasses!), and presented a talent roster ranging from Natalie Cole to Rosanne Cash, Steve Earle to Joshua Bell, with comedic relief provided by Lewis Black, to boot.
Before departing, we too, had the chance to tour the winery. Our guide was Restaurant Manager, Nathan Holgate. The stainless steel vats come from South Africa and one vat, at least, is reserved so that City Winery Chicago can also produce red and white kosher wines.
Our impression is that City Winery Chicago is a terrific addition to our city and we plan to return both for brunch and at night to see what it is like to attend an evening event. Too bad I don't have a private event to book there.
City Winery Chicago
1200 W. Randolph Street, Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 733-WINE (9463)
Music, spoken word and comedy presented 20-25 nights/month
A complete, printable lineup can be found here
Proscenium stage and state-of-the-art Meyer Sound® system
Dinner is served nightly, from 5pm, and weekend brunch, Saturdays and Sundays -10am - 4pm.
Photos: Leon Keer