Hidden behind its grand white columns on the corner of Superior and Wells, it’s easy to misidentify this Old Town dining destination. However, once inside the first floor wine bar or even peeking in through an outside window, one quickly realizes that there is more than what originally appears within the dark brick walls- which is ironically a noticeable theme throughout the space. Between the meticulously constructed ambiance and the thoughtful menu offerings, the Boarding House and its experiences are anything but predictable.
It’s human nature that we “eat with our eyes,” meaning that what we see on a plate or hung on the walls enhances and dictates our overall dining experience. With the same theory holding true to restaurant ambiance, it’s no surprise that the Boarding House was dubbed one of the sexiest new restaurants by Zagat. By combining dark, rich beams, radiant windows, robust coloured upholstery, exposed brick, and rustic wooden tables, the interior of the Boarding House is both enchanting and eccentric. Keeping the same theme of unpredictableness constant, each of the four floors offers its patrons an eye appealing and eclectic experience. Whether it’s gazing at the beautifully constructed chandelier above the bar on the first floor-actually consisting of thousands of sparkling wine glasses, admiring the regal and open two-story dining room upstairs-complete with 4,000 of upside down bottles clustered as décor, or visiting the intimate downstairs wine cellar and literally peeking at the restaurant’s bottled supply, there is always more than what originally meets the eye.
For those who are vino connoisseurs, the Boarding House offers an extensive list of both domestic and international selections, all chosen by resident Master Sommelier, Alpana Singh, The current menu is extremely cumbersome with wine, focused on a theme of seasonality. However, if bottled beer, champagne, spirits, or craft cocktails are your fancy, the rest of the liquid menu is balanced out to incorporate tastes of all preference. In the event that you were unfamiliar with a beverage or were interested with pairing your drinks with a meal/a few bites, the excellent and capable staff are readily available to explain and assist with any questions you may have.
First up was the Orange is the New Black. Besides loving the hit sitcom and all of its unexpected twists, I equally fell in love with this libation for that exact reason, exemplifying the idea of the “hidden twist.” Underneath the frothy egg white, bitter tingles from the blood orange liqueur and hints of Christmas-like spices from the Peychaud Bitters emerge. Smooth and flowery notes are then unexpectedly released by the Hennessy Black, leaving your palate perplexed. The combination makes for a beverage with crusading flavours, its orange components battling with the Hennessy to prevail. Although this cocktail may seem predictable at first glance, the Orange is the New Black embraces the constant theme of experiencing the unexpected. While full of hidden and latter finesse, its forefront “orange” components make a bold and lasting statement.
Next was The Blue Ribbon Cocktail which was comprised of Buffalo Trace Bourbon, apple cider, ginger liqueur, and allspice. With autumn still in full force, I naturally gravitate towards fall flavours, one in particular being cider based beverages. At first, I braced myself due to its clearer colour, normally signifying a “stiffer” type of beverage, however, The Blue Ribbon was unexpectedly light and comforting. Resembling a chilled cider with a kick, its underlying flavours rounded out its oaky whiskey components. Combined with the fresh apple cider, hints of soft vanilla and toffee from the bourbon were finished with the warming ginger and allspice notes. Instead of what I had originally expected, the star of the cocktail, the clean and palate cleansing apple cider, cloaked any abrasiveness its colour made it seem to be.
While the liquid menu of the Boarding House clearly excels in is extensive “bottled” offerings and its whimsical craft-cocktail creations, the dark horse in my opinion, was surprisingly its non-alcoholic aperitif alternatives. Although simple and straightforward, the mint and lime soda-spritzer was a lighthearted and enjoyable sip, as well as a perfect bubbly palate cleanser in between cocktails.
With a strong focus on seasonality and service, the Boarding House is known for its ever changing menu as well as its continuous unpredictable charm – two perfect excuses to visit this hospitable gem at least once every season.
720 N. Wells Chicago, IL 60654