After — the bar and lounge from decadent, two-Michelin-starred restaurant Ever’s chef Curtis Duffy and sommelier and front-of house maven Michael Muser — is undeniably the biggest bar opening in Chicago since COVID permeated daily life. Bars struggled mightily during the pandemic, with health experts targeting drinking establishments as they sought to slow the spread of COVID, and as a result of indoor service being halted multiple times since March 2020, many taverns have permanently closed. Yet, After, which opened on Thursday, October 27 in the West Loop, could herald a resurgence of bars in Chicago with the holiday season upcoming and locals looking for worthwhile destinations where they can catchup with friends they’ve lost connection IRL during the last three years.
The lounge is a contrast to the exclusiveness of Ever — where reservations are required and the tasting menu price hovers around $300 per person. After grants customers more accessibility at a lower price. And no, it’s not the “After Saloon” as Muser suggests. There aren’t corner bar staples like sticky floors, a jukebox, or those frozen pizzas that come out blazingly hot to scorch mouths. While sharing characteristics with other upscale bars like Kumiko in West Loop and Aviary in Fulton Market (After has a stash of vintage spirits and every seat in the house can be reserved in advance), the bar’s chic and futuristic design looks like the set of a sci-fi show. Lawton Stanley Architects, the firm that also designed Ever, wanted a “modern, abstracted” take on Chicago’s drinking scene, according to an opening news release. The vintage seats are even fancy and were designed by the late Eero Saarinen, a Finnish American architect who designed airports like Dulles outside of D.C. and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.
A curved, backlit bar serves as the focal point inside the dark space. Booths for big groups line the perimeter, divided by sheer white drapes. A few tables with room for four stand on the floor. A private room is divided by a fireplace with comfy couches. Yet, despite After’s fancy pedigree, it’s okay to put your feet on the table. After also gives Ever (located one door west) a space for more private events, including a more secluded second private room behind the bar with a ceiling shaped like an observatory. But instead of a retractable dome, there’s a curved rectangular LCD screen that looks like an IMAX panel. The screen features a special video that plays on a loop, but the room isn’t quite ready to be booked yet. A third private dining area, for larger events and full-scale dinners, is also available.
Folks curious about Duffy’s cooking, legendary since his days at three-Michelin-starred Grace, no longer need to shell out the big bucks for Ever’s pricey tasting menu. Duffy says he recently traveled to Polanco, Uruguay, to select the caviar for the lounge. Beyond caviar, diners can find slew of small plates (imagine tavern food injected with Super Soldier Serum). Chicken wing fans will enjoy sous vide duck wings that are fried to a crisp, and tossed in a sticky sauce. Skewers, like a bite of grilled fatty tuna, are served on custom plates that look like asteroid debris.
After’s origins perhaps stem from the pandemic when even the most stubborn fine dining chefs who vowed never to cook takeout were forced beyond their normal boundaries. Reve Burger, Duffy and Muser’s delivery-only pandemic pivot, helped Ever get through the heart of the pandemic and the suspensions of indoor dining. Reve has since shut down, but the operation will live on at After through Reve Fries, crisp spuds sprinkled with an almost barbecue-chip-inspired seasoning. No, there isn’t a burger on the menu.
A leather-bound drink menu is divided into 14 sections, including a large selection of Japanese whiskeys. The most notable of the sections is the Fine Spirit Cocktails, which includes the $24 24K Espresso Martini —a mixture of with Japanese Nikka Coffey vodka and 24K Gold Black Perigord Pu-Erh from Rare Tea Cellar. There’s also a daiquiri, an herbal concoction with San Zary St. Catrin Rum that bares zero resemblance to TGI Friday’s frozen monstrosities. The classic cocktails feature familiars like an Old Fashioned, Manhattan, and a Japanese Cocktail with Monnet VSOP and Pepin Calvados. The food-inspired cocktails are reminiscent of the direction at Bar Sotano, Rick Bayless’ bar in River North. El Catrin features cocoa-infused Fortaleza Reposado sherry and lemon verbena. The Smoke Blossom is also of note, with Marz Iwai 45, High West Campfire, apricot Eau-de-vie, and pear.
Then there are the three flights. For scotch fans, try a $500 assortment of Yamazaki 12-year single malts. There’s also the century flight of Armagnac (a brand of French brandy), with pours from 1888, 1972, and 2001.
Beer isn’t completely neglected. The opening menu features six selections from local breweries including Old Irving, Moors, and Illuminated Brew Works. Champagne isn’t only for caviar, as Miller High Life is also available.
Ever customers who want to extend their night now have an option next door; there aren’t many restaurants and bars near Fulton and Ogden, at least close enough to walk. It’s an issue for some of Ever’s clientele, the type wearing fancy shoes or out-of-town visitors dressed to the nines with a reluctance for urban exploration.
Every seat, even the ones at the bar, can be reserved. Management is pushing customers to book, but there’s room for walk-ins, too.
Look for additional coverage of After next week.