After the coronavirus pandemic clobbered the hospitality industry, Lily Wang, a bartender at Estereo in Logan Square, did what other uprooted, out-of-work young folks did: She moved back in with her parents. Along with Joe Briglio, the beverage director of Blind Barber, she launched Nine Bar Market, a food and cocktail to-go pop-up at her parents’ Chinatown restaurant, Moon Palace.
Inspired by Japanese convenience stores, or konbini, Nine Bar slings snaggable entrées and packaged snacks — think shrimp chips, Pocky, and matcha Kit-Kats. Wang and Briglio debuted their first market last week and launched their second over the weekend.
“This project is inspired by our trips to Japanese convenience stores, such as 7/11, FamilyMart, and Lawson's,” Wang says. “When we were in Japan, we loved their grab-and-go options and have always wished for something similar here in the States.”
The menus rotate, but offerings have included egg salad or katsu sandwiches on Japanese milk bread, plus dishes like cup noodles with braised pork belly, bok choy, and a soft-boiled egg; chilled noodles with spicy peanut sauce; and Japanese-style curry rice with chicken and pickles. Wang and Briglio are making the dishes themselves with an assist from the Moon Palace kitchen. The pork for the ramen is Wang’s father’s recipe, and Moon Palace's mapo tofu is on offer, as well.
Given Wang’s and Briglio’s bar expertise, it’s no surprise they’re also offering cocktails. The first menu featured drinks like Sweet Tea (bourbon, peach eau de vie, lemon, and sparkling black tea) and Coffee Tonic (brandy, coffee liqueur, cold brew, and tonic water). Drinks are $14 and serve two.
In previous years, Wang and Briglio have hosted Chinese New Year pop-up events at Moon Palace. But the COVID-19 crisis has them looking ahead to future events and pop-ups, which will be branded under the Nine Bar name.
“Our long-term goal is to have a physical bar space in the Chinatown area,” Wang says. “But with the current pandemic and its imminent effects, we've decided to hold off. In the meantime, we have some more pop-ups and ideas in mind.”
Wang and Briglio are announcing each menu and taking orders for pickup only via Instagram. They’re also donating 50 percent of their profits to nonprofits; the first benefitted Brave Space Alliance, which provides resources and programming for trans people on Chicago's South and West Sides, and the second supported My Block My Hood My City, which is currently spearheading campaigns to support at-risk small business owners and seniors. Follow @ninebarchicago for the next release.