I’ve been craving two things since the chill set in: good bourbon (as a native Kentuckian, it takes me home) and irresistible bread pudding. When I heard a new bar in Albany Park was combining both in one seemingly made-for-me item, I wasted no time in grabbing a pair of tagalongs—my sister Liv and my friend Jenny—and heading north.
Before I reveal the results of our visit, let’s go ahead and clear something up: There is a music festival called Pitchfork. And now there is a bar called Pitchfork. The two are totally unrelated. If you show up at Pitchfork (the bar) with fellow indie rockers in tow, expecting to catch a live set—well, forget about it.
Back to last Friday. I knew Pitchfork was selling itself as a casual neighborhood bourbon bar, so I might have overreacted a little when the bouncer asked if we’d like a table. “And what does that entail, exactly?” I countered warily, steeling myself to deliver my anti-bottle-service speech. Turns out his question was an innocent offer to help us find a place to sit, which we did—at a high wooden table by the window, across from a pair of dart boards and the requisite antlered taxidermy accent. (And now, a word on taxidermy: If you’re opening a bar and find yourself tempted to festoon the place with formerly animated creatures of the wild, please be prepared to provide photo evidence proving you’re a hunting enthusiast who felled the beasts yourself. Otherwise, buying into this overwhelmingly prevalent decor trend puts you at grave risk of Bar-in-a-Box Syndrome. Enough said.)
Our sunny waitress, Erica, brought over menus and pointed out the drink specials. Tempted by the $5 deal on house cocktails (usually $8), I ordered a Bourbonade, a kind of cousin to Long Island Iced Tea, which came in a handled Mason jar. Moments later, we received a tableside visit from Pitchfork’s owner, Dan Latino (also of Waterhouse, Rebel, and Blue Light), who was making the rounds and insisted we try his own just-launched vodka label, 4 Rebels, in both shot and cocktail form. (Yep, the man who opened a bourbon bar also has a special affinity for dragonfruit vodka. Go figure.) Soon we were facing a table so laden with booze I feared for our cognitive abilities, so I was relieved when our food arrived: meat loaf, a half-slab of ribs, and the aforementioned Evan Williams bourbon-soaked bread pudding (good, although it would have been better as a smaller serving with a side of ice cream).
After Liv and I convinced Jenny it was not a smart idea to request some Paolo Nutini on the stereo (“But he’s so soothing!” she argued), we got down to the business of surveying the scene. In one corner, a group of 20-somethings draped their arms around each another for Facebook pics while bidding farewell to a friend bound for Wisconsin. Romance was in the air at a table for two, where a jeans-clad couple on what we deemed to be a third date leaned in for a kiss. A few people sang along to tunes by Sublime and Cake, while a Bulls game glowed from the flatscreens. It had all the elements of a cozy, though not history-making, night out. “I like it,” said Liv. “But—do you feel like something’s missing?” I took in the gleaming wood and the chalkboards promoting the bourbon of the day. “I think it needs a little breaking in,” I mused. A group of sports fans lining the bar seemed up for the job. “We needed a place like this,” said Don, a neighborhood resident, noting the lack of options along Pitchfork’s stretch of Irving Park Road. “We’ll make sure it sticks.”
Now that’s what I’m talking about: Gotta love a man who’s game for handling the heavy lifting.