Make no mistake, when the owners of Pops For Champagne open Bom Bolla, their new Spanish wine bar, they don't want customers to mistake their concept for a common tapas bar.
"It's uncharted territory," Bom Bolla partner and Pops beverage director W. Craig Cooper said. "What we're doing, I don't know that I've ever seen it exactly done this way anywhere."
Management targets a first week of May open for the restaurant at 1501 N. Milwaukee in Wicker Park. They've hired Matthew Lair (Kith & Kin) as chef. Sure, a menu of small plates sounds like tapas, but Bom Bolla's menu will include Spanish sandwiches, including montaditos and bocadillos. Lair has an idea for a bocadillo with wood-spit pork smeared with a brie-like cheese and black-truffled mustard. He also wants to ensure bread won't be an afterthought, as Bom Bolla will custom order their loaves off site: "We're trying to find the best ingredients we can and highlight them simply."
Cooper and Lair in July traveled to Spain for inspiration their Cava bar (Spanish sparkling wine), scoping out places including Quimet & Quimet in Barcelona. Certain logistics and differing American tastes prevent Cooper from directly emulating some of the bars he saw in Spain. Instead, Bom Bolla will take the best from several different Spanish establishments and meld them together in Wicker Park.
"We can't really get away with importing a $100-can of oysters from Spain," Lair pointed out.
Instead, Bom Bolla will use fresh oysters on its montaditos, two- or three-bite open-faced sandwiches. Expect 20 to 25 items on a menu that will be broken up into sections. Having a big menu of small items will allow diners to try something new without worrying about finishing off a larger item they decided they don't like after the initial few bites. A wood-fire grill will dominate Lair's kitchen, which will more or less be left open.
A 32-seat, "U"-shaped bar will dominate the first floor. Overall, they'll have a little under 100 seats on the first floor, and a back dining room that will seat about 30. Cooper and his partners continue to refine their ideas to what the second floor will look like, and it won't open with the rest of Bom Bolla in May. There's also a rooftop patio planned on top of the 134-year-old rehabbed building.
Bom Bolla is more food-driven than Pops, but the beauty of Spanish drinks is that it pairs well with most food, said Cooper. Expect vermouth on tap and Spanish beers, ciders, brandies and other drinks. There won't be strict food-beverage pairings, which works into Cooper's concept of creating a more accessible bar where patrons can custom create their experience — whether it's workmates grabbing a quick meal after 5 p.m. or friends gathering for a night on the town on the weekend.
"When you have a menu that's very kind of varied and unique and diverse and you have a beverage program that's varied, unique and diverse it's really easy — and again when it's not entree, it's a bite — it's very easy to pop pairings back and forth," Cooper said.