Naomi Hattori and Jun-Jun Vichaikul made what they thought would be an easy real estate investment when they purchased a Lake View storefront leased to a small liquor store. Turnkey? Not so fast. The couple’s tenant moved out, and they suddenly found themselves not landlords but shopkeepers. In August, they leaned into Hattori’s Japanese heritage: They rebranded the store as Konbini & Kanpai and opened Chicago’s coolest new slashie (a combination bar and liquor store).
As you prowl the shelves for natural wines and craft beers, there are plenty of surprises. For starters, all 180 canned beers on offer are available by the single can, and many are hard-to-find Asian brews, like Suiyoubi No Neko (which translates to “Wednesday’s Cat”), a refreshing Belgian white ale from Japan. Then you’ll find three coolers filled with dozens of sakes organized by style, such as “crisp and clean” and “umami and savory.” The front of the store is loaded with Japanese snacks, from cups of spicy instant ramen to coconut Pocky sticks.
Now for the really fun part: With tables scattered throughout the space, you can crack open a beer or order a sake flight. And, yep, there’s hot water if you want to try that ramen then and there. The shop also hosts food pop-ups from Asian American outfits like Onigiri Shuttle Kororin and Mom’s to keep you sated on rice balls and bento boxes while you sip.
If you join the wine ($40 a month) or sake ($50 a month) club, not only do you get a monthly allotment of two to three bottles to take home, but you also unlock access to the back bar, where rare and premium wines, sakes, and spirits are poured by the glass. Order the fascinating Takamine eight-year whiskey, which is fermented with koji and uses a recipe developed over 100 years ago in Peoria by Japanese immigrant Jokichi Takamine.
As for the store name, konbini refers to the convenience store snacks for sale, and kanpai means “cheers.” It’s a great combination to which to raise your glass. 1433 W. Belmont Ave., Lake View
Three Standout Sakes to Try
Jun-Jun Vichaikul recommends these to upgrade your home bar game.
Dassai 45 Junmai Daiginjo
“Dassai is the gateway drug to get people hooked on sake. It’s the definition of fruity and floral. Elegant bouquet, smooth initial taste, bold middle palate, and a crisp finish leave you wanting more.” $50 for a 720-milliliter bottle
Indigo Junmai Ginjo
Sohomare Sake Brewery
“This underappreciated sake is versatile and complex, with a little bit of rice creaminess and sweetness up front.” $38 for a 720-milliliter bottle
Cowboy Yamahai Junmai Ginjo Genshu
Shiokawa Brewing Co.
“The cow on the label says it all. This umami-driven sake is meant for hearty meat dishes and doesn’t disappoint when paired with a steak.” $35.50 for a 720-milliliter bottle