It’s been three months since Chicagoans learned that Entente, the Michelin-starred restaurant led by chef Brian Fisher, wouldn’t be reopening in River North. The buzzy new American spot will soon be supplanted by Obélix, a forthcoming French restaurant from chefs and brothers Oliver and Nicolas Poilevey, whose parents founded La Sardine and Le Bouchon. But Ty Fujimura — the restaurateur behind Entente, sushi favorite Arami, and neighborhood pub SmallBar — has had time to get used to the new state of affairs.
In February, Fujimura unveiled his latest venture: Rockwell Bottle Shop & Coffee, a retail spot featuring wine, beer, and sake, as well as drip coffee and packaged snacks at 4634 N. Rockwell Street near the CTA’s Rockwell Brown Line L stop.
“I always wanted to do something to take what we’ve learned — like sake from Arami, wine at Entente — and channel that at a retail level,” he says. “I’ve been thinking about how we transpose hospitality onto a retail experience. It’s an interesting exercise.”
While he hopes the bottle shop will become a destination for wine and spirit aficionados across the city, Fujimura is primarily focused on catering to those in its immediate sphere — the residents of Lincoln Square, along with Brown Line riders gassing up for the day with caffeine or winding down with a glass of wine on the way home. Though it’s not a bar or coffee shop, Rockwell allows patrons to grab a spot at the long counter and taste most of its selections before purchasing.
At slightly less than 1,500 square feet, the simply-designed space is a departure from the ultra-hip aesthetic seen at Entente and Arami. Long and narrow with natural bamboo floors and a light wood bar running the length of the space, it currently seats four in the front retail section (more may be added later) and offers tables and lounge seating in back. Fujimura has also tucked a few treasures throughout, including relics from projects past that he dug out of storage like a vintage “banger” cash register he bartered for two decades ago. “We’ve resurfaced some of the decor from Entente and from my family’s farmhouse,” he says. “I found my first mixtape, fun little kitschy shit like that.”
Pleased by the positive response he’s received from neighbors, Fujimura sees Rockwell a welcome relief from the typical trials of opening a restaurant. “Some of the struggles we’ve had to deal with at other concepts — labor, food costs — we don’t have to worry about that,” he says. “Now that it’s come to life, I’m really proud of it. It’s a model that could be put in other neighborhoods, but I’m just happy with it being awesome.”
Rockwell Bottle Shop & Coffee, 4634 N. Rockwell Street, Open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.