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.
When he wasn’t piloting a plane, Toby Beall spent time with his bare feet in the Caribbean sand and a cocktail mellowing in his hand. Looking to share that laid-back lifestyle, Beall, his wife Jillian and brother Jamey founded Tailwinds Distilling Company. Today, the Plainfield-based specialists blend premium ingredients such as organic molasses and 100% blue agave, and carefully age them in french-oak barrels to create their tropically-inspired amber rum. After the signature, small-batch distilling process—which avoids the use of carbon filters so as to leave the flavors intact—each bottle is individually signed. That attention to detail hasn’t gone unnoticed: their Taildragger white rum earned a silver medal at the 2012 Ministry of Rum Tasting Competition, and their 100% blue agave spirit was featured in Chicago Magazine's Holiday 2012 Gift Guide: For Imbibers.
Visitors can take a jetlag-free trip to the tropics during tours of the facility, learning about distillation and sampling sips in a tiki-bar-themed tasting room. Merchandise such as T-shirts, snifters, and flasks provide more lasting souvenirs than the imaginary tan the island vibe might inspire.
Zodiac Cafe and Lounge balances a constellation of themed martinis with a Mediterranean-inspired menu of sandwiches, salads, and small plates. Diners design flights of cheese and olives, and chefs stuff grass-fed burger patties with a rotating selection of ingredients. Pints from the craft-beer menu complement edibles, as do 12 martinis that re-imagine each astrological sign as a concoction of colorful spirits. Muted earth tones and wood accents anchor both dining room and lounge to terra firma, and starburst light fixtures and an astrological chart grant insight into Zeus's interior-decorating scheme. After the sun sets on the patio, wander inside to check out the schedule of karaoke, open-mic performances, and sets from local house DJs.
Crown Brewing’s statement light fixture isn’t like traditional chandeliers hung with crystals—instead, the amber light that filters down to the floor shines through an array of empty beer bottles. There are plenty of full bottles and pints to be found, however, as the brewery's boasts 12 varieties of brew, including award-winning beers such as the blueberry and Special Forces IPA, which Chicago magazine named one of the city's 36 best local craft beers. From the cozy bar, patrons get a view of the brewery itself, where brewmaster Steve Mazylewski is hard at work crafting batches of customer favorites and testing out his new recipes. Weekly specials include stein nights, discounted growler refills, and half-price pints can be enjoyed inside or on Crown Brewing's outdoor patio.
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.