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Former In Fine Spirits Bartenders To Open Ward Eight Cocktail Lounge & Shop In Evanston

By Roger Kamholz in Food on Mar 21, 2012 4:00PM

2012-03-19-ward-eight-logo.jpgCody Modeer and Anne Carlson, both former bartenders at Andersonville's In Fine Spirits, have revealed plans to launch a new craft-cocktail bar, restaurant and spirits shop on the Evanston side of Howard Street later this year. Modeer and Carlson envision Ward Eight as "an exceptional neighborhood bar," Modeer said in an email interview.

"Somewhere comfortable, friendly, unpretentious, where people can come in and have great drinks." Modeer's departure from his head-bartender position at In Fine Spirits comes on the heels of the restaurant's temporary closing on March 18 to undergo an extensive redesign.

Modeer and Carlson became co-workers about three years ago, when Carlson hired Modeer to tend bar at IFS. They've since become a couple, had a child together, and are now business partners in the new venture. Modeer said their goal with Ward Eight is for patrons to "enjoy their experience and taste something amazing, or turn them onto something new." He added, "The space at its core will be a neighborhood cocktail lounge, but Anne and I won't limit it to just that. We plan to have live music, host wine/spirits tastings, cocktail/wine classes, provide art gallery space, and an online/in-store shop for artisan wine, spirits, etc."


Early architectural drawings of Ward Eight's interior.

Modeer spearheaded an innovative yet approachable cocktail program at In Fine Spirits. Last year we reported on his French-style housemade bitters, and just last month the bar presented a special menu of classic and original cocktails featuring Fernet Branca, the Italian digestif. (The celebration was aptly entitled Fernetbruary.) The food and beverage program at Ward Eight is shaping up to be promising, as well. "We want to focus on seasonality and quality," Modeer said. "Cheese and cured meats (always delicious), soup, maybe a sandwich or two, dessert, a good size list of craft cocktails as well as classics, small batch wines, local beers. Our good friend and previous chef of IFS Marianne Sundquist may be helping us out with our food program."

The couple spent months searching several Chicago neighborhoods for a suitable venue. Ultimately, it was a tip from Paul Hletko of FEW Spirits that led them to pursue a space in Evanston. "He told me about Howard Street and how the city of Evanston was working on a project to bring new businesses to the area," Modeer said. "He then introduced Anne and me to the city through email. We met with the city and discussed our ideas and what kind of a space we were looking for. We viewed the space on Howard Street, did some research on the neighborhood, and decided that there was a great deal of potential."

The bar's name refers to a classic rye cocktail that dates back to 1898, but "Ward Eight" also alludes to the fact that the building's 629 W. Howard St. address lies within Evanston's 8th Ward.

Modeer and Carlson forged a unique arrangement with Evanston officials to help fund Ward Eight's development, which will take up residence in a building currently owned by the city. "The city of Evanston has been working to bring new businesses to Howard Street," Modeer said. "Anne and I were originally seeking an SBA loan, but the city of Evanston offered to work as the underwriter for our small business loan through the Community Development Block Grant [CDBG] program. Alderman Ann Rainey has been working to bring a thriving business community back to Howard Street for several years, and she has been very supportive of our project." The Evanston City Council green-lighted the deal during a vote on Feb. 27.

Modeer estimated that Ward Eight could open as early as July.