“Music that goes well with wine,” is a phrase City Winery general manager, Greg Kitowicz, uses several times during our conversation. His recently opened restaurant/winery/concert venue in the West Loop is abuzz but, at first glance, I can’t seem wrap my head around it. My musical tastes were birthed in the dingy club scene where a tall can of PBR takes overwhelming preference to a glass of sauvignon blanc. It’s not until Kitowicz—who was transplanted from City Winery’s original location in New York—gives me the grand tour that I start to "get it." It's a venue that's rich and hearty, like a housemade red. Very clever, Mr. Kitowicz.
Not surprisingly, when I ask Kitowicz about how the concert programming at City Winery, he tells me it’s designed to be a more “sophisticated” experience. You likely won’t find hard-rocking metals acts or hip-hop on their stage any time soon. Recently, Chicago’s bluesy duo The Waco Brothers performed and jazz princess Esperanza Spalding has a three-night residency in the first week of October.
The concerts themselves even take on a different style on occasion. According to Kitowicz, sets might be broken up by short presentations from wine experts on topics like protein and wine pairings.
After we tour the summery and spacious patio; the hearty dining area complete with lounge and fireplace; the private chef’s table room; the winery (which will begin production later this year) it’s time to move onto the main attraction. City Winery’s dual layered venue area is specifically designed to provide all audience members with an enjoyable view of the stage. The acoustics are surprisingly excellent and there’s plenty of room for a grand piano, full band and whatever else an artist’s live set calls for.
In an attempt to make sure that no seat goes to waste, a four-top table will likely be filled with two parties of two. Diners at City Winery need to be able to play nice with their neighbors. I recommend getting your order in before the performance begins, or to ordering in between acts. The servers are very respectful of the on-stage talent and, typically, try their best to not interrupt. That said, if you’re just in the mood for a glass of wine while you watch the band, there’s no pressure to order an entree off of the menu. City Winery takes its duties as a music venue seriously.
Operating a high-end restaurant/winery and concert venue puts a lot of pressure on everyone involved. But, as Kitowicz tells me, Chicago’s location is known throughout the company as “City Winery 2.0.” Kitowicz says they’ve learned from the pioneer location in New York and were able to anticipate issues and improve upon them. City Winery is a bold concept but, as I stir my glass on another delicious glass of red, it seems to have legs.