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DIY Flights, Fancy Bites

Get drunk at a place where only the name makes you dizzy.
Monday Mar 05, 2007.     By Erin Brereton
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

I'm all about the wine: It goes down easier than vodka, and leads to less chance of me trying to make drunken snow angels on my way home from the bar.

That said, I am not typically all about wine bars; snooty atmospheres and expensive bar tabs simply don't do it for me. So when I heard that Swirl Winebar, the newish spot in River North, is pretension-free, I had to see if for myself. Sure enough, my recent trip found a helpful waitress, a manageable wine list (it didn't resemble a Roman scroll at all) and none-too-smoky-nor-dark environs.

While Swirl's wine isn't cheap—by-the-glass prices are pretty standard for a wine bar—it does offer a decent weekly special to encourage wine consumption. And if you're like me and find that the strongest commitment you can make these days is a weekly date with "The Office" (it's funny 'cause it's true), then you're in for a treat. Drop by Tuesday for $3 tastes (about a quarter to one third of a glass) and $10 flights.

I did just that on a recent Tuesday, with two friends. First, I sampled a flight of whites; then I tasted a partial glass of Chardonnay. And finally I got tired of small portions and super-sized my way up to a full glass. (And, as a result, a wee buzz.)

My friends also enjoyed the sampling—at one point, when the three of us each ordered a flight, it looked like about nine people were sitting at our table (or three very thirsty alcoholics). So there's that to consider.

I'm also fond of snacks when I drink (especially when the meeting time is 5:30 p.m.), and it's been my experience that some wine bars offer very light snacks. Yes, the light cheeses and salads enhance the wine experience, but they don't enhance my hunger. I was pleased to find Swirl's menu included somewhat hearty fare. We ordered a tasty, almost sweet, small mushroom pizza, bruschetta and a cheese plate (which, I am happy to report, offered enough cheese, candied walnuts and some tasty, gelatinous substance for three people to split). The food came on a tea service-type, tiered platter. Fancy snacking…even better!

We liked Swirl so much, in fact, that we stayed longer than planned and ended up catching some of the free music that kicks off later on Tuesday evenings. Again, fitting with its casual theme, the singer and her accompanying musician friend just stood up in the middle of the room and performed—not too loudly and with just the right amount of rocking out.

All in all, it's a pleasant, low-key alternative to crowded bars— you'll fit in even if it's your first-ever glass of the good stuff. Then after a few rounds, you can always roll around the corner to Boss Bar, where bottled beer comes cheap and there's always some old dudes half-passed-out on the bar. I did. Ain't no shame in ending your evening with that.

Want to check out Swirl? It's at 111 W. Hubbard St., (312) 828-9000. Tuesday night Swirl opens at 5 p.m. and offers $10 flights and $3 wine tastes.


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