Bringing Home the Bacon: A Visit to 694 Wine & Spirits Lingers the Morning After

Who needs breakfast when, with a simple toss of the head, you can catch a whiff of last night’s bacon?
The Creative Director had a lot of directing to finish up yesterday before heading off to New York this morning to help with a friend’s art show booth. But he still had time to send me an e-mail with the subject line “Future Drinks”…

A glass of pinot noir
A glass of Pinot Noir at 694

Who needs breakfast when, with a simple toss of the head, you can catch a whiff of last night’s bacon?

The Creative Director had a lot of directing to finish up yesterday before heading off to New York this morning to help with a friend’s art show booth. But he still had time to send me an e-mail with the subject line “Future Drinks”:

694 Wine & Spirits just reopened [formerly Juicy Wine Company, one of Chicago’s 100 best bars of 2010]. I’m imposing an informal ban on places named after their addresses. I will not support a lack of imagination.”

It’s actually not quite true to say 694 just reopened. The River West lounge and wine shop has been under new ownership for several months; a gradual freshening-up concludes this week with the installation of the 694 sign. In any case, eight hours later there we were, making our way through a half-price bottle of Pinot Noir and ordering $10 BLTs (both Tuesday night specials). We had been to a party for the launch of the Chicago Fashion Incubator’s pop-up shop, and when we started brainstorming places to go afterward, 694 was the first that came to mind. We tried to talk a group of friends into joining us but had just one taker: my architect-turned-architectural-photographer pal, Evan.

“So then I’ll tell her to zip up her coat, and she’ll say no. ‘Are you cold?’ I’ll ask her. No. ‘Are you sure?’ No. ‘Do you want me to zip up your coat?’ No. ‘Are you cold?’ I’ll ask her a hundred times until we’re almost back home, and then she’ll finally squeak out a ‘yes’ right as we’re walking through the door.” Evan shook his head. He has a three-year-old daughter and a seven-month-old son, and last night he needed a break.

Thankfully, 694 proved just the place for a parental reprieve: soothing, spa-like wood paneling and low lighting; plenty of intriguingly mismatched couples, the origins of whose relationships we hypothesized about as we sipped our wine (Lavalife? Last weekend’s show at the Empty Bottle?); and a list of upbeat retro tunes (I’m so excited! / And I just can’t hide it!) spun by a DJ upstairs.

Chris, the bar’s owner, came over and pulled out an iPhone to show us a video of sweet-faced baby grinning and lunging unsteadily toward the lens. At first I thought it was one of those YouTube laughing-infant sensations, but it turned out to be his own child. “Yep, that’s what I do all day, every day!” he said proudly. It was a baby talk kind of night, but we didn’t mind, because Chris also talked us into another bottle of wine and sliced off a few sample bites of salumi from the charcuterie behind the bar.

A TV - and parrot - at the bar
The only time—ever—The Chaser was happy to see a TV in a bar

Things picked up even more when the bartender, Patrick, slipped us a small dish of savory Spanish Marcona almonds—a bit like crunchy rounds of butter glazed in olive oil and salt. (Just to be clear, we didn’t identify ourselves, so these samples were due solely to Chris and Patrick’s hospitality—OK, and me wondering aloud about the unidentifiable contents of a large container on a shelf behind the bar, which I had hoped was something pickled. The almonds were even better.) I asked Patrick where he likes to drink on his night off. “The Continental,” he said, referring to the Humboldt Park lounge at 2801 West Chicago Avenue. “It’s right by my house, and you can always find some assholes there.” He meant that in a good way.

We all bonded over our mutual enjoyment of fine pork products, and then Patrick delivered our best score of the night: a little plate of plain, hot bacon with drizzles of salted honey and mustard on the side. Chris glanced over from the other end of the bar and caught us swooning over this unexpected treat. “The Purple Pig’s got nothin’ on us,” he said. “That’s Benton’s, from Tennessee. Best bacon in America.”

Judging by my still porkily perfumed hair this morning, I’d have to agree.

P.S. On the way home, TCD and I indulged in one of our most contemplative lines of discussion: That Used To Be That And Now It’s This. We pointed out bars and restaurants along Halsted Street and told tales of previous incarnations—both our own and the darkened storefronts’. At a stoplight, we spotted a place that stumped us. “Parrots has always been Parrots, for as long as I can remember,” TCD observed of the Lake View old-timer at 754 West Wellington Avenue. Having never been, we decided to stop in for a nightcap—a spontaneous but probably ill-advised decision, in light of TCD’s early morning flight.

Sam Adams was on special for $4, which I guess is supposed to seem like a deal in a dive these days. A low-key crowd of about ten people was lined up at the vaguely tiki-themed bar watching the Donald Trump roast on Comedy Central. Have you seen it? Everyone’s talking today about how hard The Situation bombed. When the Jersey Shore star’s turn at the mic came up, another Parrots patron reached between us and grabbed the remote control. “This is too bad to miss,” he said. He was right; we were transfixed. It was just appalling enough to make The Chaser glad there was a TV in the bar—for once.

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