Who: Michael Simon, 31, West Loop
Gig: Bar director at Acadia in the South Loop
It’s been a serendipitous year for Michael Simon, the former beverage director and general manager at Graham Elliot in River North. After leaving the restaurant and facing a few false starts—designing the bar program at the short-lived Black Sheep and a brief stint at the new Pump Room—he’s landed at Acadia (1639 S. Wabash Ave. 312-360-9500), a promising restaurant that opened Dec. 21 in the South Loop. As bar director, he’s created a cocktail list with offbeat concoctions such as a mezcal old fashioned with notes of tomatillo and grapefruit and a coconut-dill ice cube.
What’s your approach to cocktails at Acadia?
My background’s as a sommelier, but what really got me into the spirits side was at Graham Elliot, putting a craft program of spirits in place. Everything I’m doing at Acadia is based off the classics. Using the best craft spirits I can find, how can we … [keep] the whole heart of what the cocktail is about, but then update it for 2012? I’m really trying to elevate what a guest perceives a bar can be at a restaurant.
Do you hope to draw interest in the bar, separate from the dining room?
Hats off to chef Ryan McCaskey, because he did so many things right with the space. When you come in, you’re in the bar area and it’s completely separate from the restaurant. There are 10 seats at the bar and four to five tables; we can stay open later [and] we can cultivate as much of a bar crowd as we’re able to. We really want to slam the hell out of the bar.
What and where do you like to drink when you’re not at work?
I drink a lot of wine at home. My girlfriend is the beverage director at Trump. We go through so much wine! One of my new favorite places [for cocktails] is Barrelhouse Flat … the scope of their program is insane. I love the guys at Sable [and] more dive-bar places like Bar DeVille. I live in the West Loop, so though I like places like The Whistler [in Logan Square], I just don’t get out there too much.