When it comes to creating a bar like After, the fascinating new cocktail lounge that borders on ridiculous from two-Michelin-starred restaurant Ever chef Curtis Duffy and showman sommelier Michael Muser, every detail counts. Chicago’s most lavish new bar is the result of carefully designed lighting and textures. But in the most literal sense, all of those elements are for naught without drinks, and importantly, vessels to serve them in.
The over-the-top sentiment is underscored by a hefty price tag: Including glassware for the Canvas by Ever, a new private event room neighboring After, the team spent around $30,000 on drinking vessels alone. That jives with the eye-popping price tag at Ever, where tasting menus go for $285 per person.
“We always try to pay close attention to the tactile things guests interact with — things they touch, things they feel,” Muser says. “You can’t cut too many corners.”
Those familiar with Ever’s out-of-the-box dinnerware — a dessert course, for example, is served in a bowl made of beeswax melted over ice — will recognize the same attention in After’s barware.
One would be forgiven for anticipating some wild and avant-garde cocktail glasses from the team behind Ever, but lead bartender Luis Rodriguez has — much like Muser — instead chosen to embrace the structure inherent in the menu’s focus, classic cocktails.
Muser says he began with the first questions a smart sommelier should ask themselves when choosing glassware: Who are my customers, and what kind of experience will they have?
To Muser, the former was apparent — a mix of concertgoers and sports fans from the United Center, and neighbors and apartment-dwellers in the area, which is sparse with dining options on the western edge of Fulton Market. Part of After’s role, in Muser and Duffy’s eyes, was to provide Ever’s customers with a nearby place for a nightcap. Catering to that wide-ranging base informed their formulation of the experience at After: Patrons won’t run into tricks or slights of hand and will get what they ask for.
The team began to evaluate glasses fairly early in the menu-development process, says GM Amy Cordell. Though the specific cocktails and their components weren’t yet nailed down, overarching categories like martinis, daiquiris, and Old Fashioneds dictated a precise set of barware needs.
They first selected the glass that is by all accounts the crown jewel of After’s cocktail vessels — a double rocks glass with a weighty flower-shaped bottom from Riedel. “The spirits list is heavily focused on brown spirits, so these [rocks glasses] were our biggest find,” says Cordell.
Those glasses are currently back-ordered and have yet to appear at the bar, but their discovery opened the door to other important pieces: a scaled-down single-rocks version of the massive double, fizz, and Collins glasses with matching sculpted bases, and both plain and decorated versions of Rona’s Nick & Nora, a 1930s style that has seen a resurgence in recent years. Then there’s a dramatic Champagne saucer, a large coupe glass well-suited to voluminous drinks like espresso martinis (After serves a $24 version with a 24K Gold Winter Perigord Black Truffle Pu-Erh from Rare Tea Cellar). Two squat, bell-shaped glasses (one etched, the other plain) hold neat pours, flights of French Armagnac brandy, and Yamazaki Japanese whisky.
“For Ever, [the process] was very different,” says Cordell. “China, silver, glasses — they all had equal importance. But [glasses] are a bigger focus here. It’s about doing classic cocktails consistently and right, and highlighting the spirits themselves.”
Likewise, the wine glass lineup — heavily dominated by pieces from Austrian glassware manufacturing behemoth Riedel — all comes down to style. Muser honed in on Riedel’s Veritas collection, selecting its Champagne glass for high-acid white wines (think riesling and sauvignon blanc) and anything with bubbles; its voluptuous Burgundy glass for fuller-bodied whites like chardonnay and lighter reds such as pinot noir; and its Bordeaux glass for structured reds like sangiovese, tempranillo, and syrah.
Previously wine director at the late, three-Michelin-starred Grace, Muser has developed a reputation for the kind of dedication and passion necessary to select and serve wines in an ultra-fine dining environment. He also kept high expectations for his staff’s wine knowledge. But at After, Muser has at once tailored that focus to bar patrons and expanded it beyond the exclusive club of diners that frequented Grace, and now Ever.
“I wanted to make it super simple for the client,” he says. “I’m not here to throw curveballs or showcase obscenely obscure grapes,” Muser adds. “I want you to be able to open up the wines-by-the-glass set and know exactly how to navigate it. If I’m going to give you a riesling, I want it to kill you the way a riesling kills you. You said you wanted a chardonnay. Wham. That thing will smell like AMC movie theater popcorn.”
Muser’s eye is exacting, and each glass must pass various tests. Stems can’t be “obnoxiously long” (he finds the effect absurd, likening it to the giant rubber ear in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure). He also looks closely at the spot where the glass and stem meet, seeking a fluid line rather than a “lumpy” connection point.
“You could say we’re being snooty or nitpicky, but these are the things we see,” he says.