The new boutique wine bar Connoisseur (1041 W. Grand Ave.) is elitist in one sense only: size. On an unassuming stretch of West Town, behind a frosted plexi-glass façade, the microfiber banquettes accommodate a cozy 50 patrons, max.
But banish the thought of the tiny space indicating a snobbish attitude. After just one glass of the Barkan Classic Shiraz I felt at home, as if I were loafing in a tidier, trendier version of my own living room. Comfort is encouraged: “There’s no reason to be milling around,” says Chicago native Gerald Lott, 42, a rookie bar owner who worked hard to create the lounge’s laid-back vibe. Lott cut his teeth promoting big clubs such as Funky Buddha Lounge and the Dragon Room, but he aims to leave that oversexed overkill behind here, in favor of a quiet bar where locals can grab an afterwork drink solo or with a date. “I’ve never seen anyone order a bottle of wine and get into a fight,” he says. “Nothing moves; nothing flashes"—not counting the lone portable bar, which churns out fresh-fruit martinis tableside. There’s no main bar, so all ordering—wine and cocktails only; no beer—is done via waitress.
For inspiration, Lott looked to intimate neighborhood spots, including the original Pops for Champagne, and his drink menu reflects that influence. In addition to a reasonably priced, well-edited wine selection available by the glass (starting at $8) and bottle (starting at $25), Lott offers a Champagne list topping out with the Armand de Brignac Brut ($700). For a more affordable option, drop by on Vino and Vibes Wednesdays, featuring acoustic music and $25 winetastings. The kitchen, helmed by Dan Deaton (Citizen, Romeo Romeo), turns out wine accompaniments such as a crab-Brie dip ($12) and crawfish maki ($14). On our visit, we sampled the light-as-air mango mousse ($8), served in a giant martini glass—just the way we like our food.
Photograph: Chris Guillen