One year after opening well-received River North cocktail bar The Berkshire Room, Benjamin Schiller and The Fifty/50 Group (Roots Handmade Pizza, The Fifty/50, Homestead) will double down on their collaboration. The team plans to open a second bar, this time in Lincoln Square, with Schiller at the helm.
Citing a need for a cocktail and wine bar in his neighborhood, Schiller said he looks forward to opening a bar outside of the downtown scene. The as-yet-unnamed project, with seating for approximately 35, will open this summer at 2200 W. Lawrence Ave., adjacent to a second location of Roots Handmade Pizza. We talked to Schiller about his plans.
When did this new venture come together?
The first we started talking about it was when I joined the company last May or June. We kept it pretty loose, pretty casual, and that conversation became just a great common understanding.
What will your role be with The Berkshire Room going forward?
Still beverage director. I love The Berkshire Room. I’m so proud of it. What we’ve accomplished is tremendous. We’ve been open a year and we’ve had zero bartender turnovers.
Are you going to be more experimental in a smaller space?
We’re not making spheres; there’s no contraptions. We’re going to be up north, in my neighborhood. We’re not going to have a busload of tourists, literally, outside our door. I can err on the side of ‘Let’s try this.’ What if I make a blackberry malbec ice and I blast-chill that and serve a cocktail over it? Or what happens if I draw inspiration from a recent trip to Munich and try to bring one or two of those flavors back? I don’t have to play it safe. You’re going to see some wines on there that no one else in Chicago is really pushing, and interesting, well-priced spirits. No pretension, no TVs, no douchebags.
What sort of wines will you be serving?
I’m definitely excited to reintroduce wines to people that they have a negative connotation of. I’m excited for riesling, for rosé, for orange wines.
What about the direction or theme of your cocktails?
It’s not going to be themed per se and whatever I do, I want to stay away from kitsch. I feel that in Chicago in the past couple years with restaurants and bars opening up, it’s been kind of like the food court at Epcot Center. Everything is so themed. You’re going into our magical world where everyone’s in weird outfits. With Berkshire, I was like, ‘We’re going to play the game straight up.’ Same thing up [in Lincoln Square]. Maybe a little more European and German influence, but it’s not going to be themed.
Why open something like this in Lincoln Square?
I love it there, because if you look at North Center and parts of Albany Park, Ravenswood, it’s full of people just like me. We’re perhaps a little older, settled down, established. We don’t always have to go downtown. People in my neighborhood are always like, ‘When are you going to open a bar up here?’ You can expect the type of spirits selection and politeness and cocktails that you’re used to at The Berkshire Room.
What will the space look like?
It’s a small, 1400-square-foot area on one story. It’s going to have higher ceilings. We’re going to have a 12-14 seat bar, and another 20-some-odd seats. It’s going to be kind of a straight, shotgun set-up. We’re going to have one food item. It’s something that I’ve wanted for years and years and years. We’ve been researching it and trying to find good representations of it and we haven’t found anyone that’s close to what we’ll be doing.
Can you tell us what it is?
A high-end cocktail bar inside a pizza spot might sound a little weird to some. How separate will they be?
You’re not even going to notice it. Think of it like a higher-end cocktail place inside of a boutique hotel.
What lessons will you take from the success of The Berkshire Room?
If you want a cheap beer or a vodka soda, we’re going to say yes and meet you there. People can come in and challenge me on whiskey knowledge, and it’s cool if the person next to you is on their seventh vodka soda. No one’s too cool for school. You want a cheap beer? God bless you. I can talk about spatlese rieslings in the same place that I can open a can of Hamm's for you.
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