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The Beat Goes on in This Born-Again Building

At the City Winery in Chicago, what’s behind the scenes is almost as exciting as what’s on stage. The West Loop building was once a nondescript cold storage facility for a food distributor at the edge of the famed meatpacking district. Now the 1920 warehouse has been transformed into a winery, restaurant, and above all, a hall for all styles of music, from rock ‘n’ roll to rockabilly. Between foot-stomping sets, take a few minutes to check out the furniture, fixtures, walls, and columns. Those tables and bar tops where your glasses of “West Loop White” are sitting, for example--they’re actually salvaged oak beams or wood from fallen Chicago park trees.

The columns in the lobby are bedecked with bricks originating from the old food warehouse, and wainscoting and wall trim are reclaimed floor boards. Near the bar there’s a staircase wall made of wine bottles, and the stairs themselves are vintage wood beams. Overhead in the main room float “clouds” made of reused corks that serve as ceiling lights as well as sound baffles. The venue’s signature oak wine barrels are repurposed for everything from crowd control to decoration.

In 2011, when the City Winery owners took over, they knocked through the western wall of the original building, removed the adjacent walk-in freezer, and replaced it with the glass-enclosed lobby. The lobby overlooks the outdoor dining patio, and during the day, sunlight streams in through double-insulated glass. More light comes in through four large windows punched through the white terracotta tile facade, and the extra tiles became the edge of the patio. Passersby can peek through the front windows to watch the winery at work.

And how green is the winemaking process itself? Recycling and composting are de rigueur here. For instance, the chef uses the wine dregs, or lees, as an ingredient in flatbread pizzas, and pomace-- leftover grape skins--is sent offsite to a distillery to make a brandy called grappa.

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