Review: The Glunz Tavern
1202 N. Wells St. 312-642-3002
Rating: !! (out of four) Give it some time
The Glunz Tavern has been gathering 90-plus years worth of dust—that's not quite as long as the Cubs' World Series drought, but it's still pretty remarkable. The bar had been closed since Prohibition, but the Glunz family hung on to the Old Town real estate and continued to operate a distribution company and retail store in the adjacent space. This year, owner Christopher Donovan (Barbara Glunz's son) decided the time was right to polish up the cabinets and light fixtures and throw the tavern's doors back open for business.
While the bar was scheduled to return in the summer, the usual pre-opening hang-ups pushed that date back to mid-December. As temperatures dropped in early January and my post-holiday doldrums set in, the time couldn't have been better to hole up in a cozy neighborhood spot that promised plenty of beer, wine and European-leaning comfort food. With chilled toes and a hungry stomach, I swung open Glunz's solid wood door to assess the tavern's revival.
It's hard being popular. The scene at Glunz the Friday night I visited was what I expected: a bustling mix of couples meeting up after work, some guys having a drink before heading elsewhere and well-heeled, slightly older couples from the neighborhood grabbing dinner. It seemed, though, that the crowd was not what Glunz had prepared for. A harried staff struggled to keep up with drinks, and I had a hard time catching a server's eye even though I had a seat at the bar. It's a good thing I had kept track of exactly what my date and I had ordered, too, because I needed to repeat it all—food included—to my server when it came time for the bill. To their credit, bartenders were polite and surprisingly upbeat while issuing their apologies, and they didn't cut corners. It took a few extra moments, but they chilled a man's glass with ice cubes before straining his martini.
At least there's eye candy. While I waited for my Clover Club, a gin, lemon juice, Glunz raspberry liqueur and egg white cocktail—one option on Glunz's tight list of classic cocktails ($12-14)— I was glad for the opportunity to survey the tavern's vintage interior. Through the years, the family has kept many of Glunz's original details untouched, from the safe on the dining room wall to the tin ceilings (built in the 1870s following the Great Chicago Fire). They even bought their chairs from the historic Berghoff restaurant to maintain authenticity. Despite an abundance of dark wood and stained glass, the bar doesn't feel like a relic, thanks to huge front windows that open onto Wells Street and let in plenty of outside energy.
A tavern without taps? My ears perked up when, prior to opening, Glunz's owners said they planned to offer cask-conditioned beers (a method of serving beer that means less carbonation and smoother pours) alongside draft offerings. Not only were there no casks to be found, but there were no draft beers yet at all, the bartenders told me apologetically. Owners say they do plan to install the tap system in the future, but haven't yet worked out a time frame. I was consoled by their haphazard but still solid selection of Belgian and domestic craft bottles, which weren't all listed on the menu, leaving me to test my eyesight as I squinted at the refrigerators behind the bar.
Snack French. While there are plenty of tables for diners looking to dig into a full meal, the bar is wide enough to easily accommodate the large plates of food. I saw more than a few burger-and-fry orders emerge from the kitchen, but I was drawn to the European-leaning dishes. Though the plates took a while to emerge from the kitchen, the plentiful sweetbreads and escargots bourguignon ($12) were worth waiting for. Both the snails and the sweetbreads were tender and velvety, and I couldn't resist dipping my order of fries with black truffle mayonnaise ($6) in the leftover sauce. The coq au riesling ($16), a white-wine spin on the classic coq au vin, had a similarly satisfying sauce, but the chicken itself left little impression. My date could barely wait for his order of spaetzle uberbacken ($8), a dish that promised a crowd-pleasing combo of doughy spaetzle noodles, oven-baked onion, gruyere cheese and ham. But when it arrived, the entire casserole languished under a pool of buttery grease so visible that neither of us cared to eat more than a few bites, and it left me wishing I had just doubled my escargot order.
Bottom line: Glunz felt like it was emerging from a 90-plus-year slumber, but it was the service, not the physical space, that was rusty. I'd like to stop back once the staff hass had a chance to stretch its legs a bit—and once there are beers on tap with which to wash down all the nostalgia.
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