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Bascule Wine Bar: Bridging The Beer And Cocktail Gap In Chicago

By John Lenart in Food on Dec 19, 2014 8:00PM

Credit: Bascule's Facebook Page

One of the most anticipated openings of 2014 will squeak in just under the wire. Bascule Wine Bar (1421 W. Taylor Street), the new wine bar from 2013 Jean Banchet Best Sommelier Award winner Jason Prah, Eno Wine Room Sommelier Scott Harney and Chef Mike Burkauskas, is slated to open on Dec. 29 with Opentable reservations first available for Jan. 3, 2015.

While the name Bascule sounds European (it has French roots), it is a word that is important to Chicago too. Bascule is the name of the style of drawbridge that crosses the Chicago River all around downtown. But to Prah, Bascule is something more. “For us, philosophically speaking, it's that idea of bridges, going from one place to another. So it's a bridge between old world and new world wines, also different cuisines. Ultimately it allows us to do whatever we'd like.”

The wine list at Bascule will be very personal to Prah. “I want wines that are important to me. From places I love, with history. I want wine to be a big focus here, and not only to be educational but affordable,” Prah says. There will be 15 to 20 wines by the glass ranging in price from $6 up to $20. Six of these will be on tap.

The bottle list will be 50 to 75 wines deep, ranging in price from $20 up to about $100 per bottle. In order to provide great value on the bottle list, Prah will take a less is more strategy. “As the wines get more expensive at wholesale, my cost, I'll start lowering the markup.” Also, if you spot a bottle on the list you’d really like to try, but don’t want to purchase the entire bottle, Bascule will offer you a chance to try these wines as well. “We are also willing to pour any bottle on the list under $100 by the glass as long as the guests commit to two glasses from that bottle,” Prah says.

When asked about the styles of wine the list will focus on he tells me, “we'll be old world focused with France and Italy being the primary section of the list, then fleshing that out with a more global wine experience. But for me, old world has always been where my heart is.” Bascule will also feature wines from emerging wine growing areas like Croatia and Slovenia.

“The wine list will change quite often, but as we go on we'll add some older vintages and build some vertical selections,” Prah says.

One of the tough parts of running a wine bar in Chicago today is appealing to a younger crowd who is more likely to go out for beer or cocktails. “I think younger people are being drawn to wine a little bit more. If you have interesting selections, younger people are a little more willing to take a risk.” Of course, he understands that his staff will need to be trained to handle the demands of these younger consumers who may be unfamiliar with wine. When it comes to the staff at Bascule, Prah tells me, “my staff will be very well educated in wine so there will be an easy dialog with our guests. It won't be you sort of sit down, look at the list, and maybe just order a beer because no one can tell you about the wines. And it'll be accessible with $25 or $30 bottles of wine.”

But that doesn’t mean you’ll be in remedial wine class if you are well versed in wine. “I want to bring in sort of the Michelin service mentality to a casual place. I want service here to be finessed and on point and precise and educated,” Prah says.

As an admitted glass snob, I had to ask about the glassware at Bascule. I was thrilled with the response. “We'll use four types of glasses. Champagne glasses, we'll use an all purpose glass for aromatic whites like rieslings. We'll also use a Burgundy glass, which we'll use for chardonnay, pinot noir, nebbiolo, and even white Rhones. And then of course we'll have Bordeaux glasses for the bigger style reds. I'm not a wine snob I'm a glass snob,” Prah says in agreement with my weakness for quality glasses.

Bascule will seat around 90 people. Along with bar and table seating, there will be two communal tables which Prah sees as a seating not only for larger groups but also for events. “The Sommelier table will seat 12 and the Chef's table six. After we are open for a couple months, I intend on doing a monthly series of wine classes which will include food and wine pairings based around particular regions.”

Bascule will also offer friendly hours to consumers as well as industry folks, Prah says, “if I wanted to go and have a really nice glass of wine at three in the afternoon if I'm on a day off, we plan on being open at 3 p.m. every day. Our plan initially is to serve food until 1 a.m. with a limited menu after 11 p.m. So if you're a sommelier or a waiter, this is the place to come for a really nice glass of wine or a night cap.” Hours on Sunday will be from 3 p.m. until 11 p.m.

In just a brief interview it’s obvious that Prah is passionate about bringing quality wine to people in a casual comfortable atmosphere. When I asked what he wants people to think about Bascule he tells me he’d like people to think of Bascule as “diverse, affordable, lots of value and wines with a narrative about the people who grew the grapes and made the wine.”