City Winery, the ginormous bar/restaurant/winery/education center/concert venue that took over western Soho in Manhattan in 2008, plans to open a 30,000-square foot space at 1200 West Randolph Street this summer. The original strategy to reside in the old Carson Pirie Scott building at Wabash and Monroe fell through, but City Winery’s owner, Michael Dorf (the Milwaukee native who founded, then sold, NYC’s legendary club The Knitting Factory), regrouped and signed on in an old food distribution warehouse not far from all the Randolph Street action. This should be a big one.
Dish: What is City Winery?
Michael Dorf: We bring the look and feel of the wine country experience to a big city. We will bring 100 tons of grapes to Chicago. If you want to buy a barrel of wine and work with the winemaker throughout the entire experience, you can.
D: So it’s interactive?
MD: It’s up to the consumer how involved they want to get. If you want, you can sit with our winemaker and discuss what kind of wine to make. Do you want a Bordeaux-style? A Rhône-style? A pure pinot noir? Then we invite you to participate in the crush. We hold big crush events and wine tastings. You can buy a barrel—250 bottles—and put your own label on it.
D: Where does the wine come from?
MD: For pinot noir, we partner with a vineyard in Santa Barbara. We partner with a vineyard in the Russian River in Sonoma. We work and harvest the grapes throughout the season, put them in a refrigerated truck to bring the temperature of the fruit to 35 degrees. We put a sulfur jacket across the top so there is no contact with oxygen. The restaurant’s wine list will have more than 400 bottles from all over the world selected by our wine director, David Lecomte.
D: How are you filling up 30,000 square feet?
MD: There’s a concert event space that will hold 300-plus people, a two-room restaurant will hold 150 people, and private dining rooms.
D: What kind of food?
MD: We do a lot of small plates that are designed to support a wine experience. If you have to categorize, one could say Mediterranean-based cuisines: Spanish, French, Italian, Greek. And an emphasis on cheese. We’ll be working with boutique and local cheesemongers.
D: How did the wine/music connection come about?
MD: In 2004, I made a barrel of wine in California and enjoyed that experience so much that I wanted to figure out a way to incorporate it into a music hospitality experience. We have fun with music and wine pairings. We take musical artists like Joni Mitchell and Led Zeppelin and pair songs and wines and explain why they work well together.
D: When do you plan to make all this happen?
MD: If we pray to the contracting and zoning gods, and the powers that be within City Hall, and the building department—and the liquor authorities and other bureaucratic entities—we should be open July 1st.