Venus clams at The Savoy, Wicker Park's newest seafood tavern. (Lenny Gilmore )
1408 N. Milwaukee Ave. 773-698-6925
Rating: 3 (out of four) Off to a good start
The scene: This nautically themed Wicker Park tavern was seriously buzzing on a recent Thursday night. By 9 p.m., high-top tables were filled with dates and friend-dates, with bar stools occupied by post-work cocktailers chatting up bartender Deidre Darling. Both the staff and patrons are young, and the vibe feels at once busy and casual. Plenty of worn wood and rustic rope details channel the sea theme without going overboard.
The shtick: The Savoy's drink menu is all about absinthe, an anise-flavored spirit known for 19th century legends of green fairies and hallucinations. While this love-it-or-hate-it booze has cycled in and out of trendiness over the years, few local bars really showcase it in cocktails and none have declared it a focus. Here it's featured in all of the house cocktails ($12), most of which are subtle enough for those who can't stomach absinthe's licorice-y flavor on its own. Only serious absinthe fans (are there any out there?) will want to bother with the traditional service, which makes use of vintage absinthe fountains to drip cold water and sugar into a straight pour ($7-$16).
Do ... try more than one cocktail. The Savoy Truffle, a mix of sherry, brandy and a black truffle tincture, was rich and smooth without being too heavy for the summer months. Order it as (or with) dessert and you won't regret it. According to Darling, the Dixie Drugstore (absinthe with orange flower water, bitter lemon, Cajun spice and orgeat syrup made with oats) has been the most popular, and its refreshingly sweet flavor makes it easy to see why.
Don't ... expect to get away with just splitting small dishes. Unlike seemingly every other bar and restaurant right now, The Savoy isn't focused on small plates. There are few appetizers, salads, raw bar options and "light fare" seafood options in addition to a hefty menu of full dinner plates including ancho- and coffee-crusted pork chop, barbecued chicken and maple- and jalapeno-glazed salmon. Let me warn you, the appetizer portions skew small (the $14 scallops appetizer comes with two of the bivalves), and while the chicken ($22) was incredibly tender and served with some ultra-tasty brussels sprouts, ordering full entrees to share as a group can add up quickly.
Bottom line: I can see The Savoy luring Wicker Parkers who are craving a serious seafood spot, the likes of which really hasn't been seen in the 'hood lately. The price point may turn some off, but perhaps those on a tight budget will make their way to the bar for a drink or two.
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