When I noticed that D4 Irish Pub & Cafe served absinthe, I promptly placed my order and waited for the hallucinations to begin. The clear liquid was placed in a glass beaker filled with ice and was dripped from a spigot over a sugar cube suspended above an empty snifter. Drop by drop the sugar melted, like the Wicked Witch of the west, which may have been a foreshadowing of the evil taste that was to come. The milky end-product smelled of black licorice gone horribly wrong and had a flavor to match. With each nose-wrinkling sip, I waited for the ghost of Oscar Wilde to appear and begin a discourse on the art of satire. Sadly, nothing happened. The 150 proof liquor does pack a punch, but the closest I came to a hallucination was the double-take I did when the check came.
D4 Irish Pub & Cafe made its debut on the Streeterville bar scene less than a year ago. Located on the ground-floor of a newly constructed high-end rental building, The Streeter, which stands upon the site of a parking lot that once served the now-shuttered McClurg Court theaters, D4 seeks to differentiate itself from the multitude of Irish bars in the city by aiming for an upscale look and feel. In fact, D4 takes its name from the posh Dublin postal code that is analogous with its resident’s affluence (read: Euro-Yuppie). To some extent, D4 succeeds.
Upon entering D4, you might be tempted to yodel and listen for the echo. A soaring tin-lined ceiling floats over two stories above patrons’ heads. The lofted aspect gives D4 an openness and sense of scale. This is offset with dark wooden floors, moldings and a richly detailed bar, all of which provides a more subdued, intimate counterpoint to the cavernous space. A large open area in the middle of the room provides plenty of space for mingling. During “happy hour,” expect to see plenty of rolled up sleeves and loosened ties, as the worker bees buzz about the all-important (to them) happenings of the day. As the evening progresses, locals descend from the surrounding high-rises. The remainder of the clientele is made up of tourists, who stumble upon D4 on their way to or from Navy Pier. They are most easily identified by the maps spread across their tables, cameras around their necks and conversations which are dominated by talk of how much cheaper things are “back home.”
The standing area is flanked by a row of banquettes on one side and the L-shaped bar on the other. A partitioned dining room sits off to the right, and a small lounge area, often reserved for cocktail parties, lies at the back of the establishment. A sidewalk cafe in front, wedged between the bar’s entrance, Grand Avenue and the building’s driveway, adds little to the overall ambiance except access to the elements and a healthy dose of exhaust smoke.
The draught beer selection is relatively modest in selection, but high in quality. D4 offers some fine beers that are rarely seen on tap, such as Beamish Stout and Trumer Pils. Each pint is perfectly poured in a glass unique to the brand being served. The varying shapes of the glassware help accentuate the flavor notes of each beer ala Hopleaf Bar, just as different wine glasses are used to highlight different characteristics among varietals. As D4 matures, it will be interesting to see whether breakage and pilferage take a toll on the custom glassware. I was admittedly tempted to make off with a bulbous Stella Artois pint glass, until I decided it would create an all-to-obvious bulge in the pocket of my jeans. The bottled beer selection is of equal quality to the draughts and includes an excellent assortment of Belgian beers (Delirium Tremens, Leffe Blonde) and an array of American micro-brews (Breckenridge Vanilla Porter, New Holland Mad Hatter).
The food offerings aim to go beyond that of traditional bar fare. Familiar bar items are given a twist to upgrade their presentation. For all its ambition, the simple fish and chips stands out as among the best dishes. Melt-in-your-mouth cod is coated in a perfectly crisp Harp tempura batter and served with a mound of homemade fries. On the other hand, a prime pib French dip was messy and tougher than the Sunday crossword puzzle. I guess you can’t win ’em all, but you could do a hell of a lot worse than a pint and some grub at D4.
In short, D4 Irish Pub & Cafe is a fine addition to the surprisingly sparse east Streeterville bar scene. Its refined take on the iconic Chicago Irish bar blends in seamlessly with the neighborhood it calls home. If you’re looking for more casual drinking environs, you might consider D4’s sister pub, Lizzie McNeill’s, located just down the street, where McClurg Court terminates at the river. But if you enjoy sophisticated surroundings, and appreciate a fine pint expertly poured by bartenders in (honest-to-god) white button-down shirts, then D4 is just what the customer ordered. For more information including the status on the upcoming visit of The Book of Kells, check out the D4 website. Slainte.