This historic, good-time Illinois metropolis is rich in fine wine and food culture.
Real Chicagoans have a guy. Guys take care of things—your car guy fixes your brakes, your ticket guy gets you Soldier Field’s best seats, your restaurant guy gets you in when it’s all sold out.
And if you’re a wine lovin’ foodie, then you’ve got a wine guy, and what guys they are. With five master sommeliers who are certified with the Court of Masters, Chicago plays Second City only to Las Vegas in number of masters who work in the city. Whether they are masters, simply sommeliers or importers, they’re all wine guys.
“I’ve got a lot of guys,” admits John des Rosiers, chef/owner of Inovasi, a hip, winecentric eatery just 30 minutes north of the Loop (28 E. Center Ave., Lake Bluff, inovasi.U.S.). Des Rosiers, a Charlie Trotter protégé (816 W. Armitage, charlietrotters.com) who himself tastes upwards of 3,000 wines annually, culls only the best so that a glass of Edi Simcic Pinot Blanc perfectly enhances his buffalo ricotta stuffed pasta topped with artisan bacon, browned goat butter, whipped garlic and yuzu koshu sauce. His wine guy, of course, ensures that des Rosiers is the only guy in town with this Slovenian vintage.
While des Rosiers loves the exclusive, Sue Kim-Drohomyrecky, takes a different approach. She owns the local food-centric Custom House (500 S. Dearborn, customhouse.cc), with her husband. Whether giving customers a better vintage to go with the house-cured corn beef Reuben in her upscale tavern or teaching Zing (acidic) wine chemistry pairing classes throughout the Chicagoland area, Kim-Drohomyrecky aims to demystify wine. “There’s no pretension in Chicago,” says Kim-Drohomyrecky. “If it’s good, people will drink it."
Education and mystery form a winning combination for Kyle McHugh, who owns Drinks over Dearborn (650 N. Dearborn, drinksoverdearborn.com). Drinks can be considered a typical wine boutique, except that it ’s located on the second floor, near law offices, and you have to get buzzed in over the intercom to enter. “Drinks taps into our speakeasy history,” says McHugh, who offers several classes each week.
Heritage is also important at The House of Glunz, Chicago’s oldest wine and spirits importer (1206 N. Wells St., thehouseofglunz.com). Third generation owner Barbara Glunz-Donovan works in the same 1888 building where her grandfather Louis used to age Sherry in barrels down in the basement. Today, her grandchildren also work there, amidst some of those same barrels, along with a stellar wine selection and other antiques.
At NoMI (800 N. Michigan Ave., nomirestaurant.com), Executive Chef Christophe David turns out French cuisine with a global flair, overseeing a deep and diverse wine list.
The Wit (201 N. State, thewithotel.com) pays homage to the city’s history in a playful way. The city’s newest boutique hotel embraces all things comedic, from the goofy puzzles left on your bed instead of chocolates to the sound of crickets echoing in corridors (to signify daylight), but the funniest thing is the wake-up call menu. Choose from a variety of famous Chicagoans to buzz your room, including Harry Carey, Ann Landers and a certain gangster whose signature sound is a machine gun’s rat-a-tat-tat. Also, be sure drink in the view of the Loop on the tip-top ofThe Roof.
Wine and artisan cheeses can also be found at Bin 36 (339 N. Dearborn, bin36.com). As one of the city’s first wine bars, Bin 36 offers a plethora of vintages, noshes and cheeses, and the new cheese menu has expanded to become one of the largest around. Ask noted wine director Brian Duncan to help you pair up rare dairy treats like Robiola di Mia Nonna, a bloomy goat cheese made in true Italian fashion (but only in Iowa).
More bubbles can also be found at Pops for Champagne (601 N. State St., popsforchampagne.com). The more than 125 champagnes and sparklings can be enjoyed quite well with the concerts played in the basement club. And yes, there’s a jazz guy there, too.