Red Wine Room

Editor’s Note:the Red Wine Room has been replaced by the Riverview Tavern

The Red Wine Room, located on the corner of Roscoe and Damen, may seem out of place at first glance. While the Roscoe Village neighborhood is quickly becoming very popular, Red is situated among the likes of Mulligan’s, Kitsch’n on Roscoe, the Village Tap, and others. It stands apart from its pub and grub brethren and definitely looks a step above coveted casual neighborhood joints.

I must admit I have passed it on several occasions thinking that it may be too upscale for my liking, but I recently had an opportunity to visit Red with a friend who lives nearby, which totally put any theories that I may have preconceived to rest. We were looking for a short walk, some cocktails and a chance to have a chat. We found all of that, and some of the best service I’ve encountered in a long time.

Red is every bit as eclectic on the outside as it is on the inside and carries some of the same themes like mismatched tiles and varied color schemes. When you pass the small outside seating area that looks onto Roscoe, you’ll find the wine bar proper to your right, with tall ice-cream style tables, chairs and a very small bar, designed simply for those patrons with a taste exclusively for something off of the vine.

My friend and I opted for the other, more casual bar, with its standard tin roof, red wine-colored walls (surprise) and wooden bar with beautiful copper top. The main bar also offers an entrance to Sipario Ristorante – a moderately priced, exclusively Italian menu. I was game to try a calzone – at $10 a pop, and it was fantastic.

There was reggae, mostly Marley, on the jukebox, then Beastie Boys, which seemed a little strange. I almost expected to walk in to some low-key jazz, but after making friends with the bartenders, we easily realized the connection. Note to the ladies: the two male bartenders that helped us out were both easy on the eyes and extremely friendly. My friend and I worked through one bottle of French champagne, called Posecco, and another bottle made for Red, plus my food, and our tab only came to $31. You do the math. The guys drank right along with us; we swapped stories and had a grand old time. Needless to say, they got an excellent tip.

Anyway, if you’re not into the jukebox, Red also has three TVs. On that particular night the Cubs and Cards were playing, so that was of course mandatory. Other entertainment includes a Golden Tee, which now seems to accompany the City liquor license for an establishment, and a video bowling game.

Other decorations include rock star-type posters on the walls including some local signs from places like the Double Door and the Metro, featuring the Reverend Horton Heat and other local acts.

Besides bar seating aplenty, there are additional tables, like those found in the wine room, and a small selection of booths. The chairs that accompany the tables are each covered in their own red, green or black felt-like fabric. A few small candles abound on the bar and tabletops and tiny red lights hang above the tables.

The back bar is pretty cool in its own right, with built-in shelves containing standard liquor choices, a string of red Christmas tree lights and other odds and ends. Next to the back bar chalkboards display different specials available to order in or take out from Sipario. There is also a sample t-shirt, available for purchase at the bar, and a four-foot wooden fish.

In terms of beer selection, Red has the standard bottle beers like Becks, Heini, Sam Adams, Corona, Amstel, and Miller Lite. On tap they have Pabst (!), Kaiser, Woodchuck, Honey Brown, Stella Artois, Guinness, and others. And, it’s fair to say that the wine connoisseur will not be disappointed either.

Besides the interesting conversation that we were carrying on about the nature of men and women with the bartenders, one patron actually brought his bike in the bar to pick up his pizza carryout order and decided to jump in the conversation as well. He carefully constructed what he thought was a tactful way to tell my friend that her smoking habits were unhealthy. Of course my friend and I totally respect other peoples’ opinions, but not when they are thinly veiled as “fatherly advice” from someone who was probably only five years our senior. The worst part about the whole situation was that he tried to ease into things by pondering how “cigarettes were marketed,” then jumped into “so, when you die, would you expect your family to sue the cigarette company in a wrongful death suit?” To which my friend took a drag, blew it in his general direction, replied with a hearty, “No,” that sent him packing.

If you happen to be in the area, don’t miss out on a chance to drop in on Red. My friend and I had an excellent happy hour there and were met with fantastic hospitality. Red is a casual, fun place to relax after work, and has some intriguing items on the menu. It’s also within ambling distance to other establishments if you’re so inclined to make a night of it.

Editor’s Note:

While under the same ownership, Red (as it is more commonly known) is a step up from what used to be the Damen Bar & Grill. The Damen was known for its casual atmosphere, upscale pub grub and jazz. Today, the proprietors of the Damen have joined forces with chef Alessandro Forti of La Donna to reinvent the bar as Red, with a rustic Tuscan feel and selection of 53 wines (priced $6 to $8) all detailed on a floor-to-ceiling chalkboard. Red appears to have retained a casual atmosphere and is highly regarded.

The progression of the Damen to Red, sufficiently puts the establishment’s past as Gasthaus Zum Lowen behind it. According to The Official Chicago Bar Guide (1994), the following was observed at Gasthaus Zum Lowen: “They seemed friendly, but the poster of Hitler bearing the legend, ‘When I come back, no more Mr. Nice Guy,’ tells you everything you need to know.” And, for the single most outstanding feature of the bar: “People saddened by the outcome of WWII.”

In addition, Red joins the likes of Glascott’s, O’Donovan’s, the Green Mill, John Barleycorn’s, and Lottie’s as having formerly been a speakeasy.