They say you never forget your first love—that’s true for bars and boys, in my case. Both cemented themselves in my heart on a cold January night, post-dinner, in the Loop. The streets were dead, so when my now-husband Ben and I hopped into a cab I assumed we were headed north, south, or west for a cocktail. Instead, he directed the driver east, to the Fairmont Hotel’s aria. One perfectly made dirty gin martini later, I was sold—on Ben, and hotel bars. There’s just something refreshing, voyeuristic, and well-manicured about the latter—not to mention their ever-present complimentary bar snacks.
I’m keeping Ben for myself, but I’m hoisting my hotel bar-love upon my Chicagomag.com readers. Every now and then, I’ll give you the low-down on one, from new entrants to tried-and-true classics. First up, the Trump International Hotel’s Rebar. 1. I love the name. 2. Like aria, it’s a cocktail-and-sushi lounge. 3. It boasts a newly-minted weekly champagne event, which is why I spent part of last Wednesday in the VIP room checking out “Champagne Table,” an open-armed session hosted by Sommelier Steven Lee and, on that night, a Moet & Chandon rep.
The idea is to expose you to an entire house’s offerings and let you ask both brilliant and beginner questions. From 5:30 to 7, I sipped healthy pours of five types of champagne, some more than once. I learned the proper restaurant etiquette for opening the bottle, along with how to use a knife to “saber” it. The idea was to mingle—fellow tipplers included elegant lady friends, a wine distributor, an older French businessman—but the hosts didn’t do much to foster that. They pushed the champagne, and we were supposed to push the chatter. Amazingly, the event is free—for now. Come May, it will cost $20 to attend, but you’ll also get nibbles specifically made to pair with the bubbly. I’d go back for that.
A Rebar revisit is less likely. True, the service is pleasantly attentive. The crowd skews neither young nor old; both groups and solo drinkers seem at ease. The atmosphere is relaxing (though the framed architectural photos and blown-up Caravaggio print are uncharacteristic of your typical sushi lounge). The floor-to-ceiling river-side view is fantastic, and I had no trouble snagging a table by the window. But while the panorama is all Chicago, the prices are decidedly Big Apple. I was less bothered by the ballsy and somewhat silly $205 glass of tequila on the menu than by the $9 Corona Light, the $15 glass of Sauvignon Blanc (the cheapest the wine gets), the $15 cocktail list. Prices that high just don’t seem to jibe with these times. And the anemic green olives and Asian snack mix didn’t jibe with me, making this hotel bar more one-night-stand-worthy than the stuff of love affairs.