Here today, gone today. That’s the mantra of the city’s fickle nightlife scene. As with relationships, the minute you find a favorite spot, it either closes or relocates. But in the case of Pops for Champagne (601 N. State St.), which was loyal to its Sheffield location in Lake View
Pops knows best: readers clink drinks at Chicago’s Champagne central.
for 24 years, owners say a move into the heart of River North was dictated by demand. The new, ultramodern space-3,000 square feet on each of its two floors-still focuses most of its energy on bubbly, with more than 100 varieties to sip. But for this version, Pops has hired a charismatic chef to man the kitchen, André Christopher, formerly chef de cuisine at Japonais. “We wanted to step it up, to redefine bar food,” says Tom Verhey, Pops’ founding owner along with his wife, Linda, now joined by their daughter Sara as director of operations.
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The night we stopped by, Christopher was in “one of his moods,” said front-of-house manager Ryan O’Connor, referring to the chef’s flamboyant and excitable personality. Christopher’s enthusiasm extends to his contemporary-American and raw-bar menus, which feature dishes such as braised short ribs and Japanese-style “Oysters Rock-a-fella,” and the chef’s own favorite, a lump crab and potato sandwich.
Upstairs, around the central Champagne bar encircled by pounded glass panels, you’ll find most people dining and sipping. Tall tables here come equipped with built-in Champagne buckets, although (my only gripe) the chairs are too high to allow a lady to cross her legs-as a lady should do in such a fine establishment. As for what to drink, my budget-conscious group loved the Bisol Crede Prosecco di Valdobbiadene ($34). Of course, for the money-is-no-object set, Pops offers the usual suspects: Dom, Veuve, and the house that set off Jay-Z, Cristal.
On the main level is the new Pops Shop, a retail outlet that sells sparkling wines and Champagnes; in the summer, Pops plans to add an outdoor courtyard for lunch. When the bubbly starts going to your head-and trust me, it will-head to the subterranean jazz club ($15 cover on weekends) for an intimate atmosphere with a lively band. “The area needed another jazz club with Jazz Showcase closed,” Verhey says. And, on the decision to pick up and move after nearly a quarter century: “I knew this was right.” Even with long-standing relationships, you need to go with your gut.
Take those prescriptions to Walgreens; Pharmacy (1450 W. Chicago Ave.) mixes elixirs, not meds. The neon green cross out front marks the spot at this grown-up new lounge from industry newbie David Lehtman and nightlife vets Hubie Greenwald and John Manion (Mas, Motel). The bar, slated to open in early February, hadn’t launched at press time, but Nightspotting scored a sneak peek. Inside, we spied an illuminated shadow-box installation of 600 empty pill bottles by artist and Pharmacy partner Brian Eldridge, whose handiwork is also on view at nightclubs Stone Lotus in River North and Tao in Las Vegas. Lehtman, who says the inspiration for the place goes back to trips he took as a kid with his grandfather to an Albany Park drugstore, wants to keep things simple: the only food on the menu is burgers and fries, served in waxed paper. “It’s all very nostalgic,” he says. He’s also offering what he calls “specialty milk shakes” such as Guinness floats. We’ve always heard Guinness is good for what ails you.
photography: Chris Guillen