French Revelation: A First Sip at Maude’s Liquor Bar

For a spot that’s only been open a week and a day, the West Loop scene-stealer Maude’s Liquor Bar—brought to us by the owner of Gilt Bar and Curio, and one of my most fervently anticipated nightlife openings of 2011—was sailing a smooth ship last night during The Chaser’s first visit…

The interior of Maude's Liquor Bar
À la Maude: Subway tiles line the back bar, with nary an antler in sight.
 

For a spot that’s only been open a week and a day, the West Loop scene-stealer Maude’s Liquor Bar—brought to us by the owner of Gilt Bar and Curio, and one of my most fervently anticipated nightlife openings of 2011—was sailing a smooth ship last night during The Chaser’s first visit.

I’d just wrapped my third day spent interviewing subjects for an upcoming feature in Chicago. Said interviews are being conducted during a photo shoot at an art studio, where the following cycle takes place several times per day:

1. I ask the interviewee a question.

2. A parrot, one of roughly seven allowed free reign of the studio, begins to squawk.

3. A small puppy, white with black spots, barks at the parrot.

4. Interviewee begins to speak.

5. I faithfully type whatever I think I’m hearing.

6. The parrot, joined by several winged mates, squawks louder.

7. In desperate frenzy, the puppy barks and yips.

8. The parrots up the stakes to out-and-out screams while simultaneously ringing bells in their cages, which they are by no means obligated to inhabit.

9. Interviewee shouts. I type.

By 6 p.m., I needed a cocktail, and Maude’s wasn’t far away. A colleague and I found the place (not easy, as the exterior is painted matte black, allowing only the tiniest sliver of light from within), bellied up to the bar, and ordered two drinks: a St. Germain Fizz for her and a Whiskey Smash for me, both $11. Two hours and one additional friend later, our messy-haired, Woody-Allen-bespectacled bartender slid a small glass toward us across the bar with a check for $119.88. No, we did not have dinner—just a few shrimp here ($16), a few frites there ($6), one very large, very tasty beer split three ways (Blanche Bruxelles; $24), and perhaps a glass or two or four of wine ($10 each).

The Chaser’s notes (to be expanded in a forthcoming review):

1. The “smash” might be my new favorite drink concept. A member of the Mint Julep family, my Whiskey Smash (there are four other variations on the cocktail menu, including the Smokey Violet, which I vow to try next time) arrived looking “like a salad,” as my friend pointed out. With bountiful sprigs of mint, a shaved something or other that might have been a carrot, and a heaping portion of perfectly round tiny ice balls, it was a cocktail I had to restrain myself from gulping.

2. In a welcome departure from the all-pervasive urban hunting lodge trend, French-themed Maude’s opts for salvaged subway tiles and aged mirrors over antlers and barn-wood siding.

3. Gilt Bar and Curio’s multi-chandelier look lives on: Light fixtures in all shapes and sizes hang from the ceiling—some glittering, some industrial-style, all turned down as low as they go for a sexy, super-dim effect.

4. No TVs! Finally, my number-one nightlife request fulfilled, allowing my two friends and me to converse while looking directly at one another.

5. So far, Maude’s seems like a destination bar. Last night’s crowd was too dressed up to have feasibly traipsed down the block on a whim. No, they had primped and fussed, and they weren’t popping in for a casual cocktail. They had come for a Night Out. I confirmed this by interrupting a nearby man about to take his first bite of cassoulet ($14), forcing his fork to hover somewhere between plate and mouth while answering my questions:

The Chaser: “Excuse me, sir. Do you live in the West Loop?”

Man (grumpily): “No. I live at Southport and Roscoe.”

TC: “Ah. What brings you to Maude’s this evening?”

Man: “I was meeting a friend. He blew me off.”

TC: “That’s not very nice.”

Man: “I’m pissed about it, actually. But I like this place. Too bad it couldn’t be a spot you’d stumble on in your own neighborhood. Restaurant row? Kind of a pain in the ass, don’t you think?”

TC: “Yes, it’s a cab situation for most.”

Also on the bird-watching front, I have it from a reliable insider source that the latest projected opening date for the Grant Achatz bar Aviary—to be located on Fulton Market next door to Achatz resto #2, Next—is late March. Custom fixtures are still being created for the space, which, when it opens, will likely blow the craft-cocktail concept completely out of the water. The Chaser’s taste buds are standing by.

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