Horror-Influenced Wine Bar and Bottle Shop Promises Easter Eggs in Avondale

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An intimate wine bar and bottle shop is coming this fall to Avondale with a wide array of Old and New World selections, an emphasis on minority vintners, and decorative winks and nods to horror movie fans. Deep Red Wine Merchant is aiming for an October debut at 2901 N. Milwaukee Avenue.

At just 12 seats and 1,000 square feet, coziness will be a defining characteristic of Deep Red, and one that its owner is embracing. For years, Dave Thompson has worked at restaurants and bars like Lula Cafe, Cherry Circle Room, and Map Room. He wants to create a come-as-you-are space where he can demystify the often-intimidating wine world for those who want to learn.

“Every time I can turn someone onto a beverage, it makes me so happy,” says Thompson. “I can take them down a path they’ve never been on — that’s the fun of going out, of having an experience. That’s what I love when I go out and someone guides me into something new. I always leave with a kind of wonder at how big the world is.”

Close quarters will allow Deep Red staff to focus on conversation. Thompson’s avoiding the word “education,” saying it feels stuffy and formal. Instead, he wants to add, what he calls, “after-hours learning opportunities” so patrons could accrue basic wine knowledge they can build upon over time.

The shop’s robust retail selection will also serve as a launch pad for tutelage. Space is limited, but Thompson, who is white, plans to fill it with as many bottle as possible, with an emphasis on winemakers who are LGBTQ, Latinx, Black, Indigenous, and people of color — populations that have long been marginalized in the majority-white wine industry. For Thompson, “it’s important to give representation to the wine community at large and all of its assets. I want to be able to take part however I can in giving a voice to these particular wine producers.”

Thompson isn’t sharing too many details about the shop’s appearance, but would-be patrons can take a cue from its name, a reference to 1975 Italian horror film Deep Red. A fan of horror movies since high school, Thompson says he has long been inspired by director Dario Argento’s aesthetic and artistry, and Deep Red’s interior designer is planning to integrate horror references as “little hints, like Easter eggs” into the decor.

When it opens, Deep Red will be the latest entrant into a kind of horror alley in Avondale, just blocks away from deceptively colorful horror-themed coffee shop the Brewed. The neighborhood is also home to the Insect Asylum, a taxidermy museum, and horror-friendly books and records shop Bucket O’ Blood. “There’s a vibe here in Avondale,” says Thompson. “I can’t explain why, but I like it.”

Thompson has spent 17 years working in Chicago’s hospitality industry, first cutting his teeth in 2004 as a food runner at Lula Cafe in Logan Square. He then spent eight years growing his beer knowledge as an assistant manager at the Map Room in Bucktown before turning his hand to cocktails as bar manager at the Cherry Circle Room inside the Chicago Athletic Association. He’ll leverage all that experience to serve his neighbors in Avondale, including the decision to set unusual bar hours: Deep Red will close at 8 p.m. After nearly two decades of closing bars in the wee hours of the morning, Thompson says he’s ready to end that grind and assure residents that they won’t be subjected to late-night booze-fueled parties.

“I just want it to be fun!,” he says. “It’s supposed to be fun. When people walk in, I want them to feel comfortable and safe asking questions — no matter how basic — about wine.”

Deep Red Wine Merchant, 2901 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Scheduled to open in October.

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