Chicago's State Street: That Grape Street

     A little bit of wine country has come to downtown Chicago’s famous State Street.

     But before we tell you about the vinous nirvana in America’s Second City, a few words from the Chairman of the Board…

     “On State Street, that great street, I just wanna say: They do things they don’t do on Broadway…”

     What type of things? Well, how about putting three wine bars in a single one-block stretch?

     Yes, State Street – home of the famous Palmer House, the historic Chicago Theatre and, since last April, the street-level news studio of the local ABC-TV affiliate, WLS – could now quite accurately be labeled, “That Grape Street.”

     The most famous of the three State Street wine bars is Pops for Champagne, which relocated to the River North neighborhood last year after 24 years in an area of the city known as Lakeview.

     Pops’ old space was somewhat cramped, whereas the new venue is sprawling. In fact, the new Pops offers two levels of bubbly bliss.

     On the main level, a translucent onyx bar and multi-media chandelier contribute to the modern club feel. Only most clubs don’t offer the amazing selection of Champagne and other sparkling wine, nor such a well-stocked raw bar. If the bi-level set-up creates a generational divide, this is where the younger “hipsters” like to hang out.

     Downstairs offers a haven for music lovers, and because jazz is the genre of choice, the crowd skews older. The low ceilings and large stones provide an “underground” vibe that one normally must be in Europe to experience.

     While Champagne is Pops’ specialty, the busy nightspot also has a full bar and an American contemporary menu that includes numerous seafood choices. And the desserts are worth the extra 300 sit-ups you’ll need to do in the morning.

     If bubbly isn’t your bag, perhaps you’d prefer the Italian wines and cuisine just up the block at Quartino. Or if Pops seems a bit pricey (and it is), be aware that the motto at Quartino is: “You can’t afford not to eat or drink here.”

     The Quartino concept revolves around small plates, or piatinni, of well-executed Italian dishes, artisanal cheeses, and meats that are cured in-house. The dining room features a salumeria station where the chefs slice meats and cheeses to order.

     Chicago Tribune restaurant critic Phil Vettel gave the restaurant a rare three-star rating, and raved about such menu items as fava bean panino, roasted baby octopus, mushroom pizza, asparagus risotto and roasted mussels. For dessert, Vettel describes the profiteroles as “particularly impressive.”

     Amazingly, as good as the food is, the wine does not take a backseat. It’s served in quartinos, the equivalent of about a glass-and-a-half, which is perfect for sharing and trying multiple selections.

     The third point of vinous light on State Street is Osteria Via Stato, which is a combination restaurant and enoteca (wine bar).

     The restaurant offers an Italian-style prix fixe menu in three courses: antipasti, pasta or risotto, and entre. The enoteca has a small-plates menu and also embraces the quartino size for wine, as well as a mezzeliter size, which is equivalent to about two-thirds of a bottle. The enoteca also offers three-wine flights under the menu heading, “Just Bring Me Wine.”

     Within walking distance (even in the dead of winter) of numerous downtown hotels, this one-block stretch of State Street is a wine lover’s dream, providing the opportunity to enjoy three distinctive vinous experiences without the need to hail a cab.

     Just watch out for those cabbies – some of whom seem to be color-blind when it comes to traffic signals – as you cross the street.

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(Always Inquire Before Traveling)

Pops for Champagne

601 N. State Street



626 N. State Street


Osteria Via Stato

620 N. State Street


Posted in Our Wine Travel Log
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