Chefs are opening wine bars all over the country, and Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises is getting into the act in Chicago. LEYE will blitz River North next month with Bar Ramone, the first wine bar in the 47-year-old company’s history. As previously reported, they’re taking over the former Bottlefork space at 441 N. Clark Street. Look for a mid-August opening.
They’re keeping the space’s layout the same, said LEYE sommelier Ryan Arnold. Arnold’s been begging LEYE founder Rich Melman to open a wine bar for the last four years or so. Melman finally acquiesced and they’ll have a wine list of under 100 bottles with about 25 available by the glass. The focus on classic European wines, but will showcase other regions. Arnold is currently keen on txakoli, the sparkling wine from Spain’s Basque region. In signature LEYE manner, the wine list should feature selections for both the serious and novice wine drinker. Arnold wants a place with energy: “It doesn’t have to be a quiet contemplative space.”
Using LEYE’s purchasing power as the largest restaurant group in Chicago, Arnold said they’ll be able to bring in some rare bottles. Customers can check out the chalkboards they’ll post up at the restaurant for wine lists. Arnold and fellow LEYE sommelier Richard Hanauer will curate the list.
“You can spend $1,000 on a bottle or $65,” Arnold said.
A wine bar wouldn’t have made sense 10 years ago, but Americans are drinking more of the stuff. LEYE has seen their own customers order more, and that helped make Bar Ramone possible, Arnold said. He sees Bar Ramone as attractive for diners before or after dinner. They’ll have food. The chef duo of Doug Psaltis (RPM) and Hisanobu Osaka (Japonais, Intro Chicago) have created a menu of small plates with dishes like Bloody Mary shrimp, marinated goat cheese & herbs with tomato bread and shirauo with garlic olive oil and chili.
LEYE’s projects are diverse. Melman’s opened a tiki bar (Three Dots and a Dash), a nightclub (Studio Paris), and even a virtual poke restaurant (ASAP Poke). Now it’s time for wine.
“I think ‘wine bar’ was the box that hadn’t been checked off yet,” Arnold said.
Does the name have anything to do with the ‘80s band? Arnold referred questions to Melman. That’s a mystery for another time.