UPDATE: Since this interview was conducted, Simon has left Graham Elliot and is pursuing other opportunities.
“I’m the sheriff of Booze Town,” says Michael Simon, the beverage director and general manager at Graham Elliot, the fine-dining hot spot named for its famously eccentric chef. At the restaurant, located in River North, customers listen to turned-up rock music and chow down on Indoor S’mores while front-of-house charmer Simon races around the dining room in skinny jeans and suspenders, his mustache curling fiendishly as he leads patrons through the wine list. “We have high standards, but it’s not an egotistical environment,” he says. “It’s about fun, brainstorming, testing things, pushing the limits.” On nights off, Simon and his girlfriend, also a sommelier, like to try new wines while checking out the competition around Chicago. “I’m definitely a glutton,” he says, naming Naha, Alinea, Kith & Kin, and Avenues among his favorite places to tuck in. To burn off the calories and “keep myself sane,” Simon hits the gym in his building and does yoga in his living room. His habit of peppering conversation with prodigious vocabulary hints at another creative pursuit: “If there were such a thing as a 36-hour day, I’d spend the extra 12 hours writing,” he says.
Photograph: Maria Ponce