The Salon Series with the artist Alex Menocal
J. C. Steinbrunner (standing, left) and Alex Menocal chat with the salon crowd at The Bluebird in Bucktown.


For $40, you get three courses, drinks, and a side of culture.

ART As a teenager, I watched Woody Allen films and imagined that I lived in one of those bookcase-lined apartments on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. In my fantasies, I would have smashing dinner parties with literary luminaries and intriguing artists. We’d discuss the Existentialists and art over wine; the conversation would be witty, engaging, and sometimes riotous. Or maybe it was Paris in the 20s. Pablo and Gertrude and Ernest and F. Scott. Either way, art and dining and good conversation always seemed to inhabit visions of my future. The reality of dinner parties is that you have to cook. And clean up. Plus, you worry about the guest list and pray that everyone gets along. The Salon Series at The Bluebird, a wine bar and restaurant in Bucktown, provides the setting, the food, and the possibilities, without the headache or the mess.

Conceived by J. C. Steinbrunner, an artist, and Tom MacDonald, the owner of The Bluebird, The Salon Series is in part a response to the weak economy, a way to juice interest in art and dining during this low point in the cycle. But it’s also a reaction against typical gallery culture: How can artists show their work outside of the gallery system? How to you get people to talk about art in a different way? The idea evolved to include food and drink—specifically, wine, which has its own exclusionary connoisseurship culture. Steinbrunner and MacDonald wanted to bring these two subjects—art and wine—to a new audience, to bring them down from their haute status.

Alex Menocal

This past Sunday, my husband and I attended the final evening of three for the artist Alex Menocal, a painter who also does wonderful geometric drawings. (Alex works with my husband and has become a friend of ours.) Recently, he began working in a new medium—tape. Why? He wanted to be able to produce large-scale works quickly; he then photographs these massive "drawings" to document them before they are stripped away. For the Bluebird event series, Menocal produced three large installations and displayed photographs of past murals.

The evening started with a tasty glass of cava. After we took our seats, Steinbrunner welcomed the crowd of around 30 people and introduced the artist. But we didn’t jump right into the discussion of art. First, we had to get down to the serious business of eating, drinking, and socializing.

Before each course, MacDonald talked about the dish and its pairing. The first course was two simple flatbreads—one with tomato, arugula, and mozzarella, the other with chorizo. The pairing was a robust red from the Piedmont region of Italy. We learned that in Italy these wines are typically paired with tomato based foods because there they grow in the same soil. A natural fit. The wine was dry but smooth. Yummy. The second course was sauteed whitefish in a mustard cream sauce; the dish was served with a crisp Italian white from the Basilicata region. The third course was rabbit braised in Belgian ale, ladled over linguine, and paired with the same ale—Gouden Carolus Ambrio—in glasses.

After dinner, the floor opened up for discussion. People asked good questions: What inspired you? What’s your process? How do you place value on something temporary? At the end of the evening, we were given tape and asked to alter the artwork. The energy in the room changed. Suddenly, guests were laughing, giggling, and having what might even be called riotous fun.

GO: June 6, 7 pm. Photographer Doug Fogelson at The Salon Series. 1749 N Damen, 773-486-2473.

Photography: Cathy Sunu