TR Napa Valley offers only four seats at the bar.
Earlier this week, my editor coined a term in response to the opening of two new pint-sized Gold Coast watering holes: “pocket bars.” Can we officially call it a thing?
Last night as I approached the entrance to Oak Street’s TR Napa Valley, the wine bar looked so dark and cavernous that I wasn’t sure it was open. Once inside, I headed past a few populated tables to the four-seat bar in the back, where—nearly nose-to-nose with the bartender—I ordered a $12 glass of Sauvignon Blanc.
I tried to take a picture of the interior of the space, but it was just too dark. A group sitting near the middle of the room noticed what I was up to. “Hey, are you taking my picture?” asked one of the men. “Because I don’t want to end up on TMZ!” he joked.
That exchange prompted a marketing guy named David Rohr to introduce himself, and fill me in on some details about TR:
- TR stands for Tasting Room, but the bar never refers to it as such in order to avoid confusion with this West Loop institution.
- TR also functions as a retail wine shop (delivery available), and opens at 10:30 most days. As far as the closing time goes, they’re still testing the waters.
- Details for a membership program that would give participants discounts on bottles, after-hours access, and connections to wine tours and restaurant reservations in California are in the works.
- Private tastings and parties are already popular at the ten-day-old bar. In fact, one was starting at seven last night, so I had to skedaddle.
Next stop: Eduardo’s Enoteca, a little wine bar and small plates restaurant in the spot formerly occupied by an Edwardo’s Natural Pizza. The place is still run by the same company (Bravo Restaurants owns Gino’s and Ed Debevic’s, among others), but a younger member of the family, Noah Himmel, has persuaded the group to try a change of direction.
Eduardo’s serves roughly 15 vinos by the glass and 50 by the bottle, and it’s an affordable Gold Coast option compared with the neighborhood’s über-pricey alternatives.
Himmel envisioned a casual date spot, with all handmade and fresh foods—right down to the simple syrups for cocktails. To go with another Sauvignon Blanc, the bartender Megan talked me into a rapini crostini ($6)—crisp, bitter, and delicious—and Himmel recommended the linguine Bolognese, a secret recipe sauce that takes eight hours to make.
Finally, to round out this week’s obsession with pocket bars, I polled my social media crew: “Hey drinkers—what’s your favorite itsy-bitsy bar in Chicago? Your go-to teeny tiny hangout?”
The winner by a landslide was the River West lounge The Matchbox (770 N. Milwaukee Ave., 312-666-9292). Kristin Lewis, a friend who used to work there, said, “The best part is that you have to talk to people just to maneuver—but if you don’t like being touched or having your personal space encroached on, it’s not for you!”
Wang’s (3317 N. Broadway, 773-296-6800) my personal favorite Boystown hangout, with only 19 seats and vintage porn in the bathroom. My only gripe? Ladies are discouraged to enter after 11.
Fion Wine & Spirits in Lincoln Park. “It’s maybe 10 bar seats and a few small couches,” said Revae Schneider, owner of craft cocktail/bar styling company Femme du Coupe. “I love it because it’s intimate, the bartenders usually remember you, and they don’t bug you every five minutes.”
Marty’s Martini Bar in Andersonville, the Toulouse-Lautrec-inspired place of which reader Shaun Sperling said, “The small size of Marty’s is no indication of the strength of their martinis.”
Tell me, drinkers, which Chicago bar would you put in your pocket if you could?