This month Pops for Champagne (www.popsforchampagne.com) celebrates 25 years—and in a much larger, more vibrant location than it began.
After stumbling across a Champagne bar in Vienna during the late 1970s, owner Tom Verhey was inspired to open his own. “It was so cool and different and I thought, ‘Man, this is a great idea,'” he says.
When Pops opened in Chicago’s Wrigleyville neighborhood in 1982 it was the country’s 7th all-Champagne/sparkling-wines bar, giving the neighborhood a place to sip Champagne amid dark wood interirors and cozy lighting. The other six bars have since closed, says Verhey, making his the longest in operation.
The new location, at the corner of State and Ohio streets in downtown Chicago, is 6,000 square feet split between two floors. Floor-to-ceiling windows give voyeurs a taste of what’s inside. Jazz musicians play downstairs Tuesday through Saturday evenings. At the previous location, music was integrated into the dining and bar area, says Verhey, and didn’t cultivate the jazz-club experience it now does.
On the street level, bottles of Champagne and sparkling wine chill in coolers until their purchase (Pops doubles as a beverage retailer). Décor designed by Chicago firm Harley-Ellis Architectural mimics the inside of a Champagne bottle with straw and gold as the dominant colors. Vintage Tattinger posters decorate the walls, golden onyx stone slabs are beneath the bar (located in the room’s center) and a white-washed tree protrudes from one tabletop. each tabletop in the front area is a cracked-glass surface while those in back are reddish-copper in color with zebrawood chairs. Sheets of textured plexiglass are juxtaposed and suspended above the bar, projected on mirrored screens. Amber lights above the tables “mimic the champagne in the glass,” says Verhey.
Chef Andre Christopher prepares small plates to order like spicy tuna roll, edamame, beef carpaccio, braised short ribs, fondue and pumpkin ravioli, as well as dessert and cheese selections. There is also a raw oyster bar.
Champagne and sparkling-wine choices fluctuate between 120 and 140 that cost anywhere from $25 to $1,050 (1995 Krug Clos du Mesnil) a bottle. On Wednesday evenings a Champagne or sparkling-wine tasting is a mini-education in bubbles; November’s line-up includes focuses on J Wines and Domaine Carneros.