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5 Things to Know About Ste. Ellie

By Ruth Tobias
November 15, 2013
Photo by: Christopher Cina

At long last - after some two years in development - the transformation of the basement space under Colt & Gray is complete; the 50-seat cocktail and small-plates lounge chef-owner Nelson Perkins and head barman Kevin Burke have christened Ste. Ellie opens tonight at 8:30 PM. When we checked in some 72 hours beforehand, construction was still underway - heck, Perkins was scooting around with a mop - but the interior as it stood shared the warmly modern, ebony-and-ivory aesthetic of the dining room upstairs (pictured). So, too, will the eats and drinks follow the thoughtful yet robust, old-world-meets-21st-century house style - albeit with a few twists, starting with the fact that they’ll be served until 1:30 AM nightly. Here are a few other teasers to consider:

1. Prepare to broaden your perspective on cocktails. “There’s a desire on our end to focus on classics that haven’t blown up like some others. Maybe the 1940s-1960s aren’t as venerable as the 1870s, but, say, the Diamondback and Talent Scout are great drinks,” argues Burke.

2. Or look toward the taps. “The cornerstone will be cocktails, but I want people to have so many great choices ahead of them that they just have to come back the next night,” Burke says. “The beautiful thing about this team is that we’re a huge bunch of nerds through diverse disciplines. We’ve got Ryan Conklin, a certified cicerone, doing the beer program; he’s been on an educational sabbatical that took him cross-country six or seven times. He went to Portland, he went to Nashville, he staged at The Aviary in Chicago - and he’s bringing all that back with him.” Of course, the “focus on rarity and scarcity” Colt & Gray has always maintained will extend down the stairs: “We’ve got some Russian River that we’ve been cellaring for a while, some Stone and Avery - a lot of wild ales that will continue to develop.” With any luck, you’ll be there for the tapping, or for the surprise introduction of some one-off from any number “of these smaller local guys we love to work with, like Hogshead and Black Shirt.”

3. But wait - there’s Champagne! “I’ve always wanted to pour honest-to-God Champagne by the glass. If I go to any bar on any night, and my option is a $14 Manhattan I can get anywhere or a delicious, food-friendly Henri Billiot for $20, why not?” Good question, Burke. With 6-8 wines by both the glass and the bottle, French bubbly won’t be your only option. But it’ll be a damn good one. “Over the years, I’ve learned to love dirty Grey Goose martinis, because they pay for so much Pappy Van Winkle and Champagne,” he laughs. “Because it’s not our bread and butter, because we don’t have to keep the lights on through sparkling wine, I can really focus on the great stuff I love. We can explore different disgorgement dates, for instance.” Don’t mind if we do.

4. And food, glorious food “similar to what we serve upstairs, but reinterpreted as bar food.” After all, Burke points out, “bar food doesn’t have to be kids’ stuff, all fries and chicken nuggets. When I get off work, what I crave is a Negroni and burrata. We’ll have crudo, oysters, great vegetarian options and a heavy reliance on charcuterie, of course. And burgers, which we’re known for. With the focus on whole-animal butchering, we can really fine-tune what that burger says about us.”

5. You can thank Viande, the meat-curing facility in the next room, for said charcuterie, which Burke says is sous chef Kyle Foster’s “brainchild. He was working on a 6-by-6-ft. table upstairs; now he’s got a high-quality production space with two walk-ins. We’ll be up and running with duck braesola, terrines and so on, but six, nine months from now, we’ll have whole-muscle stuff like coppa.” You can also thank Viande, indirectly, for some of the booze. “I asked myself, what does ‘whole animal’ mean for a bar?” Burke explains. In response, he came up with the idea of single-barrel purchasing from distillers who will bottle the contents exclusively for Ste. Ellie. Clearly, he, Perkins and crew are primed and ready to do what they already do with such panache: “Throw a party every single night.”

Places Mentioned

Colt & Gray

American • LoHi

Food25 Decor24 Service23 Cost$48
 
 
 
The Aviary

West Loop

Food26 Decor27 Service27 Cost$60
 
 
 
 
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