The owner of The Vig wants to target an older crowd, one that's graduated from some of the typical sports bars that line Old Town. Ryan Marks left Big Onion Tavern Group saying that his heart wasn't in it anymore, that he wanted to diverge from his friends' path, a path that included bars like Fatpour Tap Works and Woodie's Flat, the latter which is just few doors down from the Vig. The Vig is an ambitious space with 27-foot ceilings, an homage to sports gambling with photos of icons including banned baseball player Pete Rose and mafia boss Arnold Rothstein.
Besides his experiences with Big Onion, Marks spent a big chunk of time with the J. Alexander's restaurant chain, and was in charge of the now-shuttered Lincoln Park location on Clybourn. The time was a heavy influence for Marks, affecting how he sees customer service. For example, he won't call staff who check IDs "bouncers." Marks prefers the term "goodwill ambassadors."
Design wise, check out the grey woods and tables that even have a built-in slot for menus, a way to eliminate clutter. The televisions, when dormant, look like mirrors. Marks said he got the idea from Pinterest. There's also an upright piano stripped so visitors can see the working insides. It's also the site for a DJ booth for the weekends. A chalkboard hovers above the front bar listing an actual Major League Baseball schedule from the 1950s. Marks said he liked the old-school teams that have moved cities or don't exist like the Philadelphia Athletics and Washington Senators. The booths use black and burgundy, a retro feel that extends to the three bathrooms.
The menu is thick and plays on the sports-book theme, called "The Book." But the food offerings are simple. Marks said no item has more than six ingredients, including ribs and salmon. There's two bars and besides the draft beer options there's wine on tap and two kegged cocktails. Marks said there are even plans for boozy slushies, and the drink list includes 110 whiskeys. The food includes a double-patty burger and other pub fare. For weekend brunch there's fried chicken and champagne, which Marks sees as a way to class up football Sundays.
Marks said he doesn't feel like his bar is in competition with Big Onion, but he also sees this as a beginning. Using the company name It's All Good, he wants to open ten spots, even outside of the Chicago area. But for now, he's concentrating on The Vig, saying cutting ties with Big Onion allows him more creative freedom. They soft opened last week, but celebrate the grand opening today.
Check out the menus below and photos above.
The Vig, 1527 N. Wells St., (312) 982-2186, open from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., Monday through Friday. Weekend brunch starts at 10 a.m.