If the last few years will be known for anything (besides, you know, the economy), they’ll be known as the golden age of beer. Microbreweries are popping up almost faster than craft-beer bars can open to showcase them. Every night seems to bring another expertly paired beer dinner, brewmasters like Goose Island’s Greg Hall hold celebrity status, and the city’s most celebrated new restaurants — The Publican, The Bristol, the revamped Goose Island Clybourn — have beer lists more extensive than most other restaurants’ entire bar offerings. But while beer has seen its star rise, wine has met with a grimmer fate, the grape relegated to extremes of dirt-cheap BYO bottles and high-end special occasion indulgences. But three of fall’s new restaurants seems poised to change all that — if beer is the new wine, why not make wine the new beer?
Consider Michael Roper, owner of the iconic Hopleaf beer bar and soon to be owner of an unnamed wine-oriented restaurant in the space next door. “This is the right time for this to happen,” he told us. “One of the things that I think will make wine more of a people’s beverage again is to get it out of this very limited format of the bottle.” Roper’s wines will be available “on tap” — stored in bulk and served to measure, with customers able to order by the pitcher, the carafe, the quartino, or the glass. (There will be some wines sold in traditional 750ml bottles, but Roper likens them to “a reserve list.”)
“Swine and wine” is the plan for the Purple Pig, a small plates restaurant on North Michigan Avenue set to open in November. Owners Scott Harris of Mia Francesca and Heaven on Seven’s Jimmy Bannos are working with a third, anonymous partner to offer alternatives to traditional bottled wine. “We’re going to be able to split any of our under-$40 bottles right then and there,” says Bannos. “I’ll open it myself and pour out half for you.” The Purple Pig will also be offering wine by the quartino and the glass.
Finally, enter Stephanie Izard. Her long-awaited restaurant, the Drunken Goat, is scheduled to open in January bearing a special-blend house wine that Izard herself helped create at a vineyard in Walla Walla, Washington. That wine will accompany meaty, flavorful dishes — house-made charcuterie, long braises, and savory seafoods — that might otherwise seem more at home paired with an extensive selection of craft beers. In fact, The Purple Pig and Roper’s restaurant are also serving the sort of robust, simple fare that might not look out of place at a beer-centric place like the Publican. “People have gotten too damn doctrinaire about all this stuff,” says Roper. “It creates a negative feeling about wine in general. I just want to serve a good glass of wine.”
What else is opening in the coming months? Check out Grub Street’s Fall Preview and mark your calendar.