Michael Dorf stood with his brother Josh, smiling over the barrel filled with wine from grapes they'd just crushed, fermented, and pressed. He claims that despite tastings and classes, he'd never begun to understand wine until this moment. As his understanding grew, he laid the foundations for City Winery: a full winery facility, restaurant, and concert venue inside urban Chicago. He now watches over more than 400 international wines and 20 house wines. Inside the winery, these wines—made from nine US and international varietals—age inside stainless steel tanks and American and French oak barrels. Here, staffers lead winemaking classes, letting visitors join the crushing and fermenting process, and showing them how make private barrels and fill custom juice boxes or bottles pasted with labels of their own design.
These monolithic tanks and barrels can be seen through floor-to-ceiling windows from most of the restaurant's rooms, where servers ferry Executive Chef Andres Barrera's dishes, each a blend of Italian, French, Spanish, and Middle-Eastern flavors. The culinary team crafts small and large plates of artisanal cheeses, seafood, and flatbreads—which they make using the winery's own wine lees as yeast. In the restaurant and Barrel Room tasting bar, staffers pour housemade wines piped fresh from the cellar through 14 taps, while visitors bask in the glow from hard wood and floor to ceiling windows. Patrons dine on a ground floor lit by soft blue lights and hanging lamps fashioned from old wine bottles, as well as a mezzanine level looking out on the city skyline. Private dining rooms gather guests around long communal tables, stretched between exposed brick walls. In the show venue, comedians, live musicians, and slapstick-prone stage crew members entertain audiences under the glow of tabletop candles.
Naturally, the chefs at Cooper’s Hawk have a sharp eye when it comes to wine pairings. Each of the restaurant’s contemporary dishes is crafted with a particular wine in mind, which makes plenty of sense given the fact that there’s a winery located just next door. Surrounded by oaken barrels and racks lined with glistening bottles, diners may be forgiven for thinking that they made a wrong turn and ended up in the winery itself. After your meal, see the real thing in the Napa–style tasting room, where you can sample up to eight different wines. The selection includes something for everyone, including graceful blush wines and cabernets whose flavors unfold like a novel scribbled on the wings of an origami crane.
The 20 taps at the Beer Geeks' pub are filled with a rotating selection of microbrews and craft beers from around the world. Cask-conditioned ales are the product of the pub’s on-site beer engine, and the rest of the bar's staggering selection beers and ciders come bottled. The bottles include craft brews, mass-produced classics, and Trappist beers brewed at seven Trapist monasteries in Belgium and the Netherlands where monks still make beer by hand. To complement the bitter hops of their suds, Beer Geeks hosts top Chicago blues musicians every Tuesday night.
Prior to arriving at tables, the wings at Brewski's Wings and Things bathe in one of 12 sauces, which range from Dijon honey to parmesan and pepper. It's fair to say the sauces have a kick since even the mild buffalo sauce is called "mild hot" and the hottest flavor goes by the name "hotter than super hot." Aside from wings, diners nosh on chicken tenders, half-pound steak burgers, and nachos loaded with beef, beans, jalapeños, and guacamole. A cartoon rooster named Roscoe, the eatery's brew-holding mascot, makes multiple appearances on the menu and in the dreams of children who want to grow up to be a chicken who drinks responsibly.
At Frank's Big Sausage, the food fills bellies while golden brews refresh between bites. On any given day, the Polish pub’s kitchen is busy as cooks stuff sandwiches, make sausages, and boil up their sweet and savory pierogi. Mugs of Okocim and bottles of Zywiec keep diners cool as they dig into these and other Polish specialties or perfect their darts game.
Bulldog Brewery was born out of steelworker Kevin Clark's home brewing hobby. But founding his own brewery didn't mean Kevin was ready to quit his day job. And neither have co-owners, Bob Fausto and Jeff Kochis, a steelworker and a second-generation firefighter respectively. The hard work required of having two jobs is in keeping with the brewery's mission: to celebrate small town America and the blue collar workers who live there.
One of the ways they achieve this goal is by providing a place for customers to relax after a hard day's work, whether it's with a grilled panini sandwich or a pint of flavorful lager, stout, or IPA. Their beer also celebrates the working man. The 1890 Stout, for instance, commemorates the year that oil refineries came to Whiting. Its dark, crude-like color conceals notes of vanilla bean and cherry, and it's best consumed while wearing an oil can jauntily perched upon your head.