If you are Prince, Paul Simon, Jerry Seinfeld, Sandra Bernhard, or many other a marquee name, you know that one of the friendliest venues to ply your talent is the City Winery—in New York City or Chicago, and in future City Winery venues to-be-announced. City Winery is now celebrating its 15th anniversary!
It must be cool to play an audience just over 300 in size that is happily sated with stellar wine and food to match. That’s the City Winery formula—and it works!
We recently took a tour of Chicago’s City Winery with its young, smart and hip General Manager Greg Kitowicz, who moved from NYC to help give the Chicago venue its start. The first time he had gone to City Winery it was as a customer going to see Jeff Daniels of “Dumb and Dumber” fame, and who Greg shares is quite the musical talent to boot.
He was blown away by the scene. The next day he emailed the owner saying he wanted “in”, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Though similar in look and feel to the NYC City Winery there is actually no lack of Chicago in every building detail. Formerly this space was a business called Robin’s Grocery Distribution, and other than Oprah’s studio being across the street, it was pretty much an industrial area and anything but the hip strip it is today.
The charming space is all the more welcoming when you realize the great lengths to which City Winery went to preserve and reclaim the materials of the original structure and incorporate it into their posh surrounds. The wood tables? Yes, reclaimed wood from the grocery business. The brick archways? Yes, bricks from the original structure. Wainscotting, the original cooler door and windows on display, and other trim—yes, all from the original structure.
This charming architectural touch obviously put together with great effect is all the more fitting when you get a taste of the Chicago City Winery’s Winemaker’s perspective that wine itself is a preservation of time and place.
Taking a break from admiring his new ebulliometer, an instrument to measure alcohol content that has been used with design unchanged for over 120 years, Chicago City Winery Winemaker Robert Kowal remarked philosophically, “Some forget that wine is an agricultural product that comes from a particular place and season. We might ferment the wine but you are getting a taste of the season and place. Wine connects you to the place in the same way that a jar of grandmother’s jam has that charm of connecting you to her.”
Indeed, Kowal and his team put great thought into the places where they buy the grapes to make their wine. For the 14 wines they keep on tap in Chicago they purchase 65,000 tons of whole cluster grapes mostly from California, Washington, Oregon and recently grapes from Argentina for a Malbec spring crush. Kowal is now eyeing some grapes from Michigan to add to the mix.
Kitowicz explains, “We want to make wine accessible to our customers. There are 10 wine captains on the floor (level one certified sommeliers) who work under the direction of our chief sommelier. You can buy our wines retail, have them in our venue, or sign-up for tasting and blending sessions.”
The menu features small plates all designed with wine-pairing in mind. Kitowicz says that as many as 90% of their business comes from Chicagoland denizens. Look at the patio on a summer night and you’ll see many who have come for just food and wine.
When you get a glass of City Winery wine it comes to you pretty much from the barrel, unless you order one of the wines from their Wine Spectator award-winning list.
City Winery lets you make your own blends for your own bottle, or even lets you buy your barrel and works with you to bring its qualities to the Goldilocks point you desire.
Because of its non-stop top-rate performer lineups every night, many might not realize that City Winery is also set up with a constellation of private meeting rooms for parties and corporate events.
This is the only winery within Chicago city limits. Go for the wine. Consider hosting a private party there and get the tour.
This is not a wine bar or restaurant you go to on your way to a great evening. City Winery is your destination with nothing wayfaring about it.
Photos: Courtesy of City Winery Chicago as indicated; remainder by Peter Kachergis
City Winery (http://www.citywinery.com/chicago/ )
1200 West Randolph Street, Chicago
312 - 773 - WINE (9463)
Nightly concerts - with dinner served from 6 PM to end of show
Restaurant - 5 PM - Midnight