Chicagoans are no strangers to over-the-top annual Christmas events and pop-ups, but this year ownership at Wrigleyville sports bar Graystone Tavern saw an opportunity to offer a different kind of celebration. Co-owners Kyle Bagley and Sam Stone plan to launch what appears to be Chicago’s first Hanukkah bar pop-up, “8 Crazy Nights,” which will run through the entire month of December. Though neither is Jewish, Bagley and Stone said they saw a void in the neighborhood’s seasonal offerings and consulted their Jewish friends for suggestions.
“We like to think of ourselves as trailblazers, and the fact that we can do something unique was really appealing to us,” said Bagley.
The pair plan to offer a selection of Eastern European Jewish classics, such as matzo ball soup, latkes (fried potato pancakes), and a brisket platter, as well as a challah grilled cheese and sufganiyot — deep fried doughnuts with vodka-infused jelly. Oil plays a central role in the Hanukkah story of Jewish resistance against King Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 168 BCE, so fried foods are common on holiday tables.
They’ve also dreamed up a selection of playful Hanukkah-themed cocktails, including a “Manischewitz Spritzer” (Manischewitz, Koval cranberry, Mionetto prosecco, club soda, orange slice), a “Gelt Martini” (Wheatley vodka, Godiva chocolate liqueur, creme de cacao, chocolate syrup, Hanukkah gelt — chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil), and a 48-ounce Manischewitz sangria bowl for groups.
Those really looking to get into the holiday spirit can rally friends for a “shotski” off an 18-foot menorah that serves eight. The bar will offer four rotating themed draft beers such as “Chanukah” (brown ale), “Shebrew” (double IPA), and “Circum-session” (sour ale).
Stone and Bagley also promise more than 8,000 blue and white lights and lanterns throughout the space at 3441 N. Sheffield Avenue, along with decorative Stars of David, dreidels, and a photo booth with Hanukkah props. Revelers will also be able to play games including Schmear Build-A-Bagel; Apples to Apples, the Jewish Edition; and Cards Against Humanity: Jew Expansion Pack. The co-owners say they’re currently in talks with the Israel Cancer Research Fund about donating some proceeds.
To be clear, Hanukkah and Christmas bear few similarities. Though both fall in December and gifts are often involved, Christmas is arguably the most significant Christian celebration while Hanukkah is a relatively minor Jewish holiday that garners attention primarily due to its proximity to December 25. Often misconstrued as “Jewish Christmas,” it’s an intimate holiday mostly celebrated privately or at small gatherings.
That’s no reason not to head out and toast l’chaim — “to life” — next month in Wrigleyville.