By now, most Chicagoans would likely agree that these are strange times. The rollercoaster ride of 2021 is at last careening toward a close, and soon many will raise a glass and gladly say goodbye to a deeply weird year. But strange doesn’t have to mean bad or foreboding — strangeness can surprise, delight, and even enlighten. Such is the ethos at GoodFunk, a new natural wine bar opening Thursday in the former home of Cafe Bonhomme, near Wacker and Lake.
GoodFunk is the latest submission the Bonhomme Group, the local hospitality company behind popular spots like neighboring sister restaurant Beatnik on the River, Michelin-starred Porto in West Town, and Spanish restaurant and sherry bar Mama Delia in Wicker Park. This year, the team shuttered Old World-influenced Cafe Bonhomme after three years. Downtown traffic was snarled due to the pandemic and it was time to start from scratch.
Perched inside the 109-year-old Great Lakes Building overlooking the Chicago River, GoodFunk aims to become a beacon for downtown drinkers looking to break their routine with an ever-changing list of unadulterated, unpretentious micro-batched wines from around the world, says Colin Hofer, director of wine and education. That means that instead of returning to the same aging bottles again and again, patrons will on each visit likely encounter fresh offerings from a wide swath of countries not generally associated with wine, such as Mexico, Hungary, and Croatia.
“We’re using the word ‘funk’ as a descriptor of eccentricity, not the odor of funk” says Hofer. The word choice also speaks to a sense of fun and levity that he feels is sorely lacking in the wine world. “It’s just fermented juice. Most of the time, the winemaker is just getting out of the way [to] let it be wild, raw, funky, and interesting. We want to love it and share it, but don’t want to be ‘wine snobs’ about it.”
Natural wine is an ancient concept that’s recently seen an enormous resurgence in popularity, and one that Hofer believes is here to stay. He plans to feature around five red, five white, and five skin-contact (orange and rose) wines by the glass and bottle, opening with selections include Milan Nestarec “Youngster” rosé from the Czech Republic and Ca’n Verdura “Supernova Blanc” from the Canary Islands.
Hofer hopes to push the envelope even further, stretching the definition of wine to include options that aren’t grape-based. On the menu, that attitude translates to fizzy fermentations In lieu of classic bubbles like champagne, such as Frukstereo “Yellow Fruktmarine” from Sweden made with apples, pears, honey, carrots, and sea buckthorn. “What is wine?” he muses philosophically. “Can it be fermented anything? Because we don’t want to play within the boundaries of just grapes fermented in barrels or tanks.”
The bar’s fondness for funk permeates the food menu as well, as Bonhomme chef and partner Marcos Campos weaves in techniques like pickling, smoking and curing. Patrons can choose among three types of spreadable meat — chicken liver pate, confit duck rillette, or pork country pate — all served with bread and grain mustard. Other light dishes include a jewel-like smoked salmon crudo, jamón ibérico flatbread, and a little gem salad topped with wasabi furikake.
The hospitality group’s in-house design team, dubbed Maison Bonhomme, has used color to great effect, transforming the mostly monochromatic European-style cafe to a colorful drinking spot with Art Deco influences, such as a cheery pink quartzite bar that seats 16 in plush yellow chairs. The dramatic arched ceiling above the bar is painted a rich green that compliments the space’s verdant plant life (a signature for Maison Bonhomme), and pink communal tables dot the space for standing patrons.
Explore the weird wonder that is GoodFunk and its menu items in the photos below.
GoodFunk, 180 N. Upper Wacker Drive, Open 3 p.m. to midnight Tuesday through Saturday; 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.