The Whole Enchilada: Drinking and Schmoozing at the Mammoth Whole Foods

If there’s one place in Chicago—other than my nearby haunt, the River Shannon—that’s like my own personal Cheers, it would have to be the new Whole Foods in Lincoln Park. Maybe everybody doesn’t know my name—it’s a 75,000-square-foot store, after all, with a staff to match—but I’m pretty sure they’ve all seen me giving informal…

Graham bellies up to the 1550 Bar.

If there’s one place in Chicago—other than my nearby haunt, the River Shannon—that’s like my own personal Cheers, it would have to be the new Whole Foods in Lincoln Park. Maybe everybody doesn’t know my name—it’s a 75,000-square-foot store, after all, with a staff to match—but I’m pretty sure they’ve all seen me giving informal tours to awestruck friends, visiting family, and the occasional stranger. I can’t get over it: The place has everything. Including two bars.

Last night, I asked my friend Graham to meet me there for a holiday drink. It didn’t take much convincing. When we arrived around 5:30 p.m., almost every stool was taken at the front-of-store 1550 Bar, but a fellow patron kindly moved down so Graham and I could sit together. We had planned to stick to beer, which Graham did, ordering a Rogue Juniper Pale Ale on tap ($5). I, however, was sidetracked by the Candy Cane Martini ($8). Drinks in hand, we asked the bartender, Christina, if we were allowed to carry them around the store. “You can take them anywhere as long as it’s not off the property,” she said. “Do you want cup holders for your cart?” Did we ever.

Soon we were merrily pushing our drinks down the aisles, stopping for sips as we stocked up on organic deodorant, bottles of wine (for later), chocolate-covered almonds, and a dinner of tacos and chips from the store’s Pilsen Taqueria, which we carried back to 1550 for consumption.

“This place is cozy,” I said, gazing at the stained-glass lights, the gleaming taps, the pressed-tin ceiling, and the fishnet-clad leg lamp, straight out of A Christmas Story.

“I know; it’s a great date spot,” Graham replied. He recounted a short-lived romance with someone who, for roughly two weeks, seduced him with Whole Foods shopping outings followed by home-cooked meals.

For round two, we picked our beers by their names. I had the Surly Furious IPA ($5), and Graham ordered a brew whose name I’ll encourage you to find out for yourself (if I included it here, The Chaser would become an accidental Internet porn destination). “Yeah, I’ll have that one!” Graham giggled, repeating the name loudly to Christina.

That’s when things began to spiral out of control.

Against my better judgment, I pointed out a good-looking contender ordering drinks a few feet away. “Hey, look: There’s a cute one,” I said to Graham, raising my eyebrows toward a newsboy cap–wearing Paul Rudd lookalike. Big mistake. 

“Ooh, Amalie, maybe he’s the one! You always said you wanted to meet someone at Whole Foods!” Graham stage-whispered.

“Shh,” I hissed, jabbing him in the ribs. “Graham, seriously. Don’t.”

“Excuse me! Sir!” Graham called down the bar. “What’s your name? Are you single?”

“It’s Shane,” answered the focus of our interest, looking somewhat taken aback. “Yes, I’m single.”

“That’s great!” Graham enthused. “So is Amalie!”

“Nice to meet you,” I said to Shane, sweating lightly and shooting dagger eyes at Graham. I explained I was reporting on the bar for my nightlife blog. Shane glanced doubtfully at my “notepad” (a slippery scrap of paper scavenged from the depths of my handbag), but gamely shared his stats: Bucktown resident, financial analyst, thought it would be fun to bring his visiting brother, Liam, to Whole Foods for drinks. 

Soon after, Graham and I gathered our coats and said our goodbyes. “I can’t believe you did that,” I scolded into his ear as we hugged.

“Merry Christmas!” trilled my own personal Bad Santa as he carried his wine and deodorant into the night. 



5 years ago
Posted by dutch23

I'm sorry, but the last thing that this Whole Paycheck is is "cozy." And you take family and friends there? Why? It's not a tourist attraction, it's a grocery store with overpriced merchandise in a chotchy setting (did I spell chotchy right?). Ooo you can taste wine...for a price! There are two, count 'em, TWO, bars! And what's this, a bevy of in-house eating options? Hey, maybe when we're done convincing ourselves that eating organic bananas are better for us than non-organic bananas (if there is such a thing as a non-organic banana) we can venture across the street to VIP's for a drink and classy entertainment. And hey look, they even provide parking up front for compact cars! Now I can finally park my Prius near the doors instead of upstaris where all the Hummers driven by yuppies who off set my supposed carbon footprint park.

I'm not trying to rip on you. If you like the place, more power to you. But to go there on dates, to actually sit there and drink, or to do your everyday shopping there is ridiculous. You want fresh produce, find a local store or farmers market (try HarvesTime on Lawrence, Stanley's right down the street or the Green City Market). You want the authentic Pilsen taco experience, try actually going to Pilsen. It's not far. Want to meet singles? How about any of the 100 wine tastings going on every weekend. Some of them might even be free.

5 years ago
Posted by woot

Drink in Whole Foods ... perhaps they want intoxicated shoppers who want to binge eat dried fruit.

5 years ago
Posted by LGS

Great blog! Keep us posted on Whole Food Dude.

5 years ago
Posted by Amalie

Hi there, Dutch, thanks for reading. I know: I'm one of those people I should love to hate. I'm bewitched by Whole Foods and I go around admitting it all the time. As a freelance writer, I do find it cozy, since it's a place to hang out with other breathing humans in the middle of the day--in cheerful lighting, with free heat and reliable internet access. It smells like good food cooking. It's close to my apartment. I enjoy the symmetrical perfection of a nice vegetable display.

And yes, I'm also a little lazy: I've been to Stanely's many times, and they do have good deals on non-organic bananas, but it can be a bit of a zoo. I love Green City Market, but it's only open two days a week, and it's cash only. I'm not one to venture on hours-long solo taco expeditions to Pilsen, at least not on your average weekday. As a nightlife reporter and singleton, I do keep my eyes open at bars all over the city--yet still find the possibility of striking up a conversation at the poultry counter vastly more romantic.

OK, enough defending of my blinded-by-the-light grocery habits. Dutch, come meet me at Whole Foods for a Candy Cane Martini some night. Then we'll go to your favorite place and compare notes. It'll make for a great blog post.


5 years ago
Posted by dutch23

Don't tell me that you're one of those girls who doesn't carry cash on them are you? As my dad says "You never know when you'll need it." But as I've learned by living in Chicago it should be more like "You never know when you'll need to bribe someone…or pay for a tow truck."

That being said, I like your reasons for going to Whole Foods. They do keep their veggies symmetrical, which has to be hard. And it is high quality stuff. And there is something romantic about meeting someone while ordering your 5lb skirt steak (or flank steak if you're into that sort of thing) for fajitas. Women who eat meat, and subsequently women who know about their cuts of mean, automatically have a leg up on their vegan counterparts in my book.

And I'll meet you for a drink only if I can substitute the Candy Cane martini for a dirty gin martini and if after we can discuss your choice in the "Choose only one: Elvis or The Beatles" debate while drinking whiskey at Delilah's.

It WOULD make for a good blog post...

5 years ago
Posted by Mark (It Zero)

Once upon a time I was firmly against bundling technology: I was quite fine with having an mp3 player, a cell phone and a computer. I didn't think putting them all together in a usable way was possible. Then I got phone that put them all together in a very usable way and now, I am in favor of bundling technology.

So perhaps I will one day come around to bundling shopping, eating and boozing. But currently I'm not ready for my neighborhood grocery store, restaurant and bar to all be the same place. When I'm at a bar, I don't want to be surrounded by people doing something mildly productive (grocery shopping). And more importantly a good bar (like Delilah's) should have its own distinct characteristics that can be romanticized. Granted, I've sat alone and drank whiskey in enough smokey bars to know there is nothing romantic about them or the experience, yet they can be romanticized. I don't think I can say the same about a Whole Foods bar.

5 years ago
Posted by matt-ly

I'd rather meet someone who randomly stopped by the Whole Foods bar for a drink than some nerd going to his 900th wine tasting trying to get a date.

5 years ago
Posted by jdc


haha - so funny, find shane on fb and then send him this link

5 years ago
Posted by Mel

That Whole Foods is fantastic! Even though I'm not single (anymore!) I think it's a great date place...even for married people. Nothing beats having a drink and dinner on a Friday night while deciding what you can cook together over the weekend. Enjoy it and best of luck finding a man at the meat counter. ;)

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