The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Wine Shops: Cellar Rat Wine Shop

By Lisa Shames in Food on Jun 20, 2007 6:00PM

rsz_cellarrat.jpgYou wouldn’t necessarily know it by looking at him, but Dean “Deano” Schlabowske is a traditional kind of guy. Well, at least he is when it comes to wine. After 17 years in the wine business, Dean decided to put his experience to good use. His motto? Corporate wine still sucks. No, really, that’s what it says on the sign posted on the window of Cellar Rat Wine Shop, his two-month-old Wicker Park store. And he should know: He spent 15 years working for two of Chicago’s largest wine retailers (no, we’re not gonna name names; you figure it out).

The way Dean sees it, it’s the smaller, family-owned wineries that, because of their passionate beliefs about making wines using traditional and natural techniques, make better wines. And primarily, those are the exact types of wines you’ll find among the 250 different bottles, all of which he has tasted at some point—yeah, tough job, he admits—located in the cozy shop. The type of wines he looks for, says Dean, are ones that truly express the region and soil where they’re from and, just as important, make you want a second glass.

rsz_cellarrat3.jpgIf Dean doesn’t look like a traditional kind of wine guy, then it should come as no surprise that his store doesn’t look like a typical kind of wine store. Sure it’s located in a mini-mini mall—hey, don’t knock it; there’s parking—but with its music posters, vintage lamps and retro kitchen tables, it’s got more of a funky record shop vibe. But since Dean is a musician, too—he’s the guitarist for the Waco Brothers as well as Dollar Store—it all makes sense and, along with the cool alternative music playing, adds to Cellar Rat’s charm.

To help spread his wine gospel, Dean always has a bottle or two open for tasting. Plus, he’s having this first—but not his last, he assured us—wine class this Thursday on Burgundies, his favorite wine varietal (sorry, grape nuts, it’s sold out). He’s also planning more casual walk-around kind of tastings, too. And down the road, he’s hoping to hook up with some of the area’s restaurants for wine-pairing dinners and possibly arrange groups of customers for dinners at local BYOB restaurants, which, we are sure, will be anything but traditional.

(Thanks to Chicagoist reader tq for the tip!)

Cellar Rat Wine Shop is located at 1811 W. North Ave., 773-489-2728.