Mini-review: Lone Wolf
806 W. Randolph St. 312-600-9391
Rating: !!! ½ (out of 4) Heating up
Here's my dilemma: It's 7:30 p.m. on a Friday and I'm jonesing for the burger at Au Cheval. I give the hostess my name, but I'm staring down the barrel of an hour-ish wait for a table. Where to for a pre-dinner drink? There are plenty of cocktail bars and chic restaurants where I could (maybe) elbow my way to a barstool, but there are few places where I can just hang out in jeans, order a beer and not feel compelled to Instagram it. The West Loop has needed a non-divey neighborhood bar—shout out to Aberdeen Tap and Jefferson Tap, but they're a bit far from the strip—and that's just what three-weeks-old Lone Wolf aims to be. Despite the big names behind the project—Matt Eisler and Kevin Heisner (Bangers & Lace, Trenchermen) and Stephen Cole (The Barrelhouse Flat)—Cole is adamant that Lone Wolf be a place for people to "get off work and relax." I stopped by on two recent nights to find out whether it hit the mark.
The scene: Cubed glass windows and a low-key, neon-yellow wolf sign let me know I had reached Lone Wolf. I pushed open the wood doors and had a view of the entire bar—no VIP areas or "lounge seating" here. A U-shaped, warm wood bar anchors the center of the room, and I saw couples and trios scattered throughout the round, black leather booths that line the walls. On a Sunday night, I spotted a few chefs and bartenders from nearby restaurants and bars cracking open Schlitzes. On a Thursday, the space was more crowded, though seats weren't tough to find.
The drinks: The vibe is neighborhood tavern, but the cocktail menu reveals Cole's pedigree. Divided into two sections—sgrippinos and amaro-based cocktails (seven drinks total, all $12)—the menu is designed for pre-dinner drinking (the citrusy, prosecco-based sgrippinos) and post-dinner digesting (the herbal, more complex cocktails at the bottom). I liked the Giralamo Sour so much that I ordered it on both visits; it's a wintery, bitter and slightly fruity blend of Luxardo Amaro Abano, lemon juice and frothed egg whites. Die-hard fans of bitter spirits shouldn't miss Seven Sisters, a potent combination of three amaros and yellow chartreuse. Lemon or lime juice-based sgrippinos are refreshing and balanced, but feel slightly overpriced at $12. Beer doesn't play second fiddle, though. Taps are devoted to craft options such as Virtue Cider's Percheron ($8), plus four drafts from Three Floyds. One of those Three Floyds handles always will be devoted to a rotating limited release available only at the Munster, Ind. brewpub and Lone Wolf.
The snacks: Guests have told Cole that Lone Wolf's menu rips off Bridgeport's Pleasant House Bakery; then Cole explains that the menu is Pleasant House's. Pleasant House chef Art Jackson bakes his royal pies ($6)—in flavors such as chicken balti and bacon mac 'n' cheese—in Lone Wolf's kitchen, which is open until 1 a.m. to satisfy drink-induced munchies. Snacks such as a Scotch egg ($4) and vegetarian chili ($5) cooked by Jackson also are available.
Bottom line: Great cocktails, craft beer options and hearty snacks—all served without pretension—combine to create a much-needed, laid-back hangout on Randolph. I can see myself becoming a regular here, especially since the wait times at Au Cheval likely aren't getting any shorter.
Reporters visit bars unannounced and meals and drinks are paid for by RedEye. firstname.lastname@example.org | @redeyeeatdrink