I had once read about Pops for Champagne in the Chicago Tribune a couple three years ago. This nationally acclaimed champagne bar featured jazz music and some of the most eclectic champagne, wine and hors d'oeuvres that you'd find in any city in the world.
Cindy had read the same article I did and she said, "That would be cool to go there, even if it's just to have some champagne and a snack." To me, it didn't sound like the type of place I would frequent, nor would many (or really, any) of my friends. I sort of forgot all about Pops for Champagne.
Well, that was until a trip to downtown Chicago just before my first hip replacement. I wanted to go the the Bang and Olufsen store on N. State Street in River North to see a friend who had gone to work there. We parked at the Hilton Garden Inn that we like to stay at and walked around the corner to the corner of State and Ohio.
Suddenly, Cindy exclaims, "Will, this is the champagne place that I wanted to go to!"
Right on the northeast corner of State and Ohio was Pops for Champagne (see map). She said, "Let's go in. Please? Can we go in for a glass of champagne? I think it would be neat!"
All her pleading was kind of cute. All right. Anything to keep the wife happy. You married guys know what I mean.
I wasn't certain this was the same place that I had read about because the article I read about previously said the champagne place was on a tree-line street in the Lakeview/Wrigleyville neighborhood on the near north side of Chicago, not far from Wrigley Field. But still, we went in and took a seat at the very modern, art deco bar.
Tom Verhey was traveling in Europe in the early 80's when he came across a champagne bar in Vienna. Verhey thought the concept was wonderful idea, so he opened the original Pops for Champagne in 1982.
Pops for Champagne looked a little out of place as it was grouped with five or six "shot and a beer" taverns in the neighborhood. Over time, each of the bars went out of business, but Pops for Champagne endured.
In late 2007, Verhey and his wife, Linda, moved their business to a larger location (6000 sq. ft.) in a two-level building in the heart of River North. This allowed the Verhey's to have the jazz musicians play in the bar area on the first floor while allowing patrons in the dining area to be able to dine with conversation. At the old location, I understand it was small enough where they had to intertwine the bar and dining area as one and the jazz music could get pretty loud for diners.
A graduate of the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu culinary school (the Atlanta campus), Andrew Brochu is the executive chef at Pops for Champagne. While most of the items on the menu consist of appetizers, Brochu does make them interesting. Actually, compared to the price of the champagne by the glass, the food prices are pretty reasonable at Pops for Champagne.
We took a seat at the octagon-shaped bar that has television sets hung above the liquor shelves on a center island. Cindy remarked that she thought it was sort of a classy bar for televisions to be featured in the place. The floor to ceiling windows gave patrons a full view of the hustle and bustle on two of the busiest streets in downtown Chicago. There were high tables and chairs, some couches and comfy chairs to sit in, and sort of a modern art-deco look to the place.
While Pops for Champagne may have one of the most extensive lists of the bubbly anywhere in the world, they also sold about 20 different varieties by the glass. Even though it was $27 bucks a glass, I told Cindy that I would treat her to a flute of Veuve Clicquot (Vuhve klee-KO), a pretty famous French champagne.
The bartender poured a couple glasses for us as the champagne flutes were sitting in front of us. Cindy and I playfully toasted one another and took a drink. Now, I'd had Veuve Clicquot before in France and it's wonderful stuff. But $27 bucks a glass? You could buy a bottle of it at Pops for Champagne for $142 bucks.
OK, I understand the painstaking work that goes into making champagne. But Veuve Clicquot also makes a non-vintage brut champagne that sells for $1200 a bottle. Holy shit! Cindy and I were sort of aghast at some of the prices of non-vintage champagnes they had to offer.
I definitely didn't feel comfortable in the place. There were a lot of Saturday afternoon shoppers or people sitting and reading while enjoying some cheese and champagne. While I would have rather been sitting at a conventional bar drinking a beer, Cindy enjoyed it and that's all that counts.
But as we finished up our champagne, we were a little confused as to whether or not this was the place we'd read about before in the Tribune. As we were leaving, I asked the hostess how long they'd been open. She said, "Oh, gosh. Over 25 years, maybe 26 now."
I said, "But you haven't always been here, right?"
"No, we moved here about a year and a half ago," she replied.
I said, "But you were up in Lakeview, right?"
She said, "Well, yes. Lakeview, Wrigleyville, that area."
I said to Cindy, "OK, then this is the same place as what we read about."
With taxes and tip, the bill for two glasses of champagne was $67 dollars. While I'm not trying to sound cheap, it was basically throwing money away. Still, it broadened our horizons, I guess. I'm sure Cindy will want to go back again. But if we do, I'm going to be looking at getting a glass of the 8 dollar champagne.