Over the last month my wife and I have settled into a nice routine of Tuesday highballs at the newly opened Prairie School in Chicago. The service is pretty nice and the mug club is a great deal– I am pretty sure they have already paid for themselves. It seems as if the room itself was a touch rushed to get opened. It could be that my first visit to PDT almost a decade ago and the subsequent ones gave me higher hopes than I should have had for Prairie School. It could also be that by the time I made it through the infamous phone booth and into my seat I wasn’t having my first drink of the night. The glow of intoxicated nostalgia is hard to beat. In the present at PS I think it is odd to see wires sticking out of the wall behind the bar, unfinished rooms off to the side, and unsure and overstaffed bartenders at a place that comes from such a prestigious pedigree. For now we will stick to the delicious machine made highballs…the way of the future I guess.
Also over in the West Loop the Blind Barber is truly business in front and a party in the back. We have had luck popping in during the week before 8pm but anything on the weekend is far too loud and annoying to sit through. The drinks come warm and most everything is defaulted on the rocks. I kind of like a negroni just poured over ice so that works for me. The red lights sort of work when the room is empty but when it’s full it reminds me of partying in the dark room at college. It was fun then and isn’t so much now. Curious to see how it develops but you probably won’t find me there too often.
A hard pass on that same block would be the WAYDOWN ironically located on the top of the new Ace Hotel. Don’t get me wrong I dig the fantastic Ace in Portland and New Orleans and have spent a fair amount of time at both of those locations and their bars are great. To quote the WAYDOWN website the bar is “named after a sad song by Illinois native John Prine…draws inspiration from the long and storied tradition of Midwestern watering holes, offering ample views of the downtown skyline, nightly music and strong, no-nonsense drinks.” Blech. It’s a sad song for sure and I don’t know of any rooftop “Midwestern watering holes”. The view is of train tracks and a faint glimmer of downtown that faces directly into the strong Eastern winds with nonsense drinks. Caitlin Laman is surely no Jeffrey Morgenthaler.
The new Scofflaw thing called The Moonlighter opened in our old neighborhood of Logan Square right across the street from the original. I can surely pass on a 300 seat bar that specializes in burgers, wings, and beer. If I wanted that I would hit up the Hooters in the Loop. They might not pour me a shot of rosé for $2 but…where else can you get twenty wings and a bottle of Dom for $200.
Enough negativity! One of our favorite places that keeps scoring high marks is the elegant Vol. 39 in the Loop just South of the Chicago River. We pop in once or twice a week for a quick one and we love that it is conveniently located in walking distance to our apartment. She usually sticks to a manhattan if we are coming after dinner or a crisp gin and tonic before. Using fresh bottled tonic and soda like they do will always keep a bar on my short list. I tend to lean towards a martini and they make a lovely one. Lately I have been taking mine extremely dry (15-1) and possibly a little more diluted than most people like. Following in the style of Kingsley Amis and his general principles:
G.P. 3: It is more important that a cold drink should be as cold as possible than that it should be as concentrated as possible.
The service at Volume is flawless and the live music (not usually my thing) on Saturdays has been fantastic. Last month the stylish and possibly ambidextrous Charlie Coffeen of (one of my favorite local bands) Sidewalk Chalk put on a great keyboard series that we made all of but one. I hope the musical caliber continues in a similar fashion through the Winter. Jess Lambert is killing it and her staff is one of the best in Chicago and they should be on a first name basis after a few trips.
We have also been enjoying a bottle of wine Acanto on Michigan Avenue after walking through the Art Institute on Saturdays. They boast a friendly staff and a prestigious bottle list all packed into a small Italian restaurant with a tiny curved bar. We have never eaten more than a snack but it is on our list for dinner soon. There is a great deal on bottles of wine on Saturdays FYI from 11am-4pm.
Speaking of bottles of wine the guys at the Printers Row Wine Shop have been great neighbors and I really enjoy their curated storefront. They are open later than most wine shops and I usually pop in with a few descriptors or what I plan to make for dinner and they point me in the right direction with ease. Mondays are the day to go for the best deals and on Friday they have fun and free tastings. A mailing list worth signing up for if you live in the Sloop.