The wait for Randolph Restaurant Row’s three-level wine bar and restaurant, The Lunatic, The Lover & The Poet, has been as long as an epic poem. But it appears the ambitious project should finally open sometime soon near the northwest corner of Randolph and Halsted streets in the West Loop. The team announced the project in June 2015.
Co-owner/sommelier Tom Powers remains a bit gun shy with announcing a date. He said he won’t reveal one until the day before, as previous announcements have left some egg on his face. He’ll offer a radiant selection of around 200 wines including 20 on tap. The bar will also showcase stateside selections.
“The quality of American wines is extraordinary,” Powers said. “I didn’t see them represented in the degree that I wanted them to be.”
Wine will be served by the glass, full bottle or 500 ml bottle. Powers is aware the Chicago wine drinker is different, and he wants to liberate them from their drinking habits. Take rosé, which Powers advocates should be enjoyed during every season, not just summer.
“Rosé on a [dreary] day like this can brighten up your while day, it lifts your disposition,” he said during a tour on Tuesday. The Lunatic, The Lover and The Poet’s stemware is made up of just one type of glass whether it’s for red or white wine or rosé or sparkling. It’s how the industry is evolving, as Powers noted many fine-dining restaurants already employ the philosophy.
The drink list will include champagne cocktails, spirits made with wine and other spirits that are overlooked—including cognac. Former Naha bartender Steve Carrow has developed the drink menu, which is presented in leather-bound books that detail recipes and Carrow’s experiences as a bartender. Non-alcoholic drinks will also be featured, and one of the first-floor bar’s taps will be reserved for Sparrow Coffee.
The backroom on the second floor includes a bar as well as a private dining room with skylight overlooks Randolph. There’s also a basement private room, and the staircase that leads there is full of tiles with pop-culture quotes about food and drink. Don’t think just because the restaurant’s name comes from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream that they’re restricted to The Bard. There’s even a quote from many people’s favorite merc with a mouth, Deadpool.
Food at wine bars is sometimes lacking, and that’s where executive chef Erik Freeberg hopes to break new ground. Freeberg is the former sous chef at Spiaggia and was the opening chef over at the now-shuttered Bar Toma. The menu will have entrees, but it’s mostly small plates with a Mediterranean twist. Freeberg touts a lamb meatball dish that’s inspired by Tunisia and Morocco. It’s braised with harissa, pomegranate molasses and tomatoes. It also comes with zhuk, a spicy Yemeni chili paste that Freeberg makes with serranos, garlic and cumin. It’s served with some Greek yogurt to cut down the spice, if needed.
They also made an executive decision: No desserts. There will be cheese and dessert wines, but Powers saw dessert as being wasteful for his operation.
The space is versatile, for United Center fans, dates, special occasions and neighbors who want a great glass of wine. Powers, who hosted Discovery Channel’s BarHunters, said he couldn’t resist a return to the restaurant/bar industry. He worked for KDK Restaurants, which included Red Light and Marche, so The Lunatic, The Lover and The Poet represents his return to Randolph Street. It appears that return is finally imminent.