CORRECTION: The original iteration of the story incorrectly identified the neighborhood where the venues will reside. The space stands in Portage Park, just south of the Jefferson Park border.
Three bar beverage industry veterans have big plans for a space near the Portage Park and Jefferson Park border, including an array of cocktails with international ingredients such as a South Korean milk soda and a sugar-beet syrup from Germany. The trio plan on opening Moonflower, a neighborhood bar and grill serving croque monsieurs and global cocktails, in November. A second bar, Nightshade, will be more experimental with corn chip and poblano martinis and a gin-based cocktail with coconut, purple rice, and lime.
“It sounds weird,” says co-owner Zach Rivera, “But it tastes very good.”
To be clear, when Rivera teamed up with Christina Chae and Marvin Boeving to open their own place, they only planned on a small cocktail bar which they would call Moonflower. If things went well, they would eventually expand. The expansion will happen a lot sooner than they anticipated.
While the team searched for real estate, the only place they could afford was a 20- to 25-seat place in an out-of-the-way location. As they prepared to sign a lease, their landlords, Marcus and Robert Sulejmani, asked if they would consider looking at another location. The Sulejmanis planned to close their own bar, Hops & Barley, a 3,000-square-feet space with two levels, and they were willing to cut the Moonflower team a deal over rent. Suddenly, there was enough room to open both Moonflower, now reimagined as a neighborhood tavern with food, and a basement cocktail bar sibling, Nightshade.
“They wanted to give us a chance,” says Rivera, “and we are absolutely in debt to them for that.”
Moonflower is slated to open in mid-November, with Carlos Cruz, the former culinary director for 16” On Center (Dusek’s, Saint Lou’s Assembly), as a kitchen consultant. The menu isn’t set yet, Rivera says, but the three owners share a love for sandwiches, particularly the aforementioned croque monsieur, an open-faced grilled cheese that is very popular in France where Boeving worked for several years. The cocktails will incorporate ingredients from their backgrounds, like Milkis, a milk-based soda from South Korea, where Chae was born, and Goldsaft, a sugar-beet syrup from Germany, where Boeving grew up.
Nightshade, scheduled to open a month after Moonflower, will be darker and jazzier and more focused exclusively on cocktails with experimental offerings. There will also be classic cocktails such as Manhattans and negronis for less adventurous customers.
Both bars will have a strong musical component — Rivera has already assembled 48 hours of music — and they will, as their names imply, have a plant theme. Chae is an enthusiastic gardener and plans to decorate with plants from her own collection. Rivera hopes that perhaps they can partner with a store in the neighborhood to sell plants in the bar.
The three owners, who met several years ago while working at the Machine Hospitality Group (Headquarters Beercade, Machine), are financing the bar themselves, through personal savings and bank loans, without any investors. “We realized that the more people are involved, the more diluted your stake in the business becomes,” says Rivera. “It’s not the best way to be able to bring what we had planned to people.”
They’re also excited to be opening on the Northwest Side. While the neighborhood has gastropubs, sports bars, and breweries, it doesn’t have a notable cocktail bar, Rivera says. “We’re excited to bring something new to the neighborhood.”
Moonflower and Nightshade, 4359 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Moonflower scheduled to open mid-November, Nightshade in mid-December.