The owner of a popular Little Village liquor store is planning to open a Latin cocktail bar with speakeasy aesthetics in early June. Mike Moreno, Jr. of Moreno’s Liquors said the new drinking spot, Osito’s Tap, will sit directly beside the store at 2553 S. Ridgeway Avenue. The bar is named for Moreno’s chihuahua, and he said osito translates to “little bear,” a joke about the dog’s small frame and an ode to the significant Mexican-American population in the neighborhood.
“The bar itself is going to be focused on craft as a whole,” Moreno said, adding that he wants to specifically emphasize cocktails. “We want to highlight a couple of specific liquor products that we have in the store that people aren’t familiar with.”
Moreno mentioned a wide selection of agave spirits and a mezcal old fashioned, but said he didn’t want to reveal too much about the still-developing cocktail menu. He said he is also eager to showcase his stash of rare whiskeys, mezcals, and tequilas that accumulated for years in his office.
Osito’s Tap will have intricate pressed tin ceilings and two covert bar entrances, one through the store and another off an alley. Customers will have to wind their way through a dingy hallway before emerging into the bar itself, designed by architect Jennifer Park of Jurassic Studio. “I want customers to come in and as they enter the bar, they’re going to have a welcoming Chicago vibe, but at the same time, a hip, modern vibe,” said Moreno, who also plans to play Colombian cumbia music.
The building was originally constructed in the 1800s, according to Moreno, and housed a bar that was shuttered by Prohibition. The spot subsequently became an “underground Lithuanian Bohemian bookie joint,” filled with tunnels that owners had to close over the years.
Little Village hosts one of most popular retail districts in Chicago yet the area is “underfunded and underserved,” Moreno said. “There’s not a lot of attractions here for young adults. The median age in the neighborhood is 24, but we lose our best and brightest to trendy neighborhoods.” He said he hopes by reinvesting in the area, young residents will stay close to home and visitors will enjoy his wares and patronize other local businesses, as well as those in the nearby Lower West Side and Pilsen.
Mike Moreno, Sr. founded Moreno’s Liquors in Little Village in 1971, and relocated the store to a different building in the same neighborhood 16 years later. The move allowed the family-run business to expand and increase its variety of spirits. Moreno’s offers over 700 different varieties of tequila and 450 different kinds of mezcal, as well as beers, wines, and other spirits.