I last visited Vox Wine Lounge in April, back when it was supposed to open to the public in June. But after a series of delays, the place is only now finally in full swing, and as with all good wine, the extra time has only done it good.
When I originally checked out the bar during its pre-demolition party, it still had its Chicago’s Own signage outside, the inside seemed to have its climate control set to “sweatshop,” and Mike Wardle—a celebrated local artist and my frequent drinking buddy—was knocking walls down with a sledgehammer. And yet, the place was still the epitome of class. Tonight, it’s even better. The champagne-toting crowd is exceptionally well-dressed. Even I’m wearing a suit, a practice so rare, it’s usually just an indication that I’ve waited far too long to do my laundry.
I find my friend Martin schmoozing at the main bar, where he gleefully points out we’re permitted to smoke. Glancing around, I notice all the neat little touches Vox has made with its logo—a “V” and an “X” on either side of a painstakingly designed, circular wineglass stain. The “O” stain is on all the napkins, without making them look used. It’s also wrapped around three sides of the matchboxes, so if you align three boxes together, it forms the whole logo—sort of a drinking man’s Rubik’s Cube. Martin suggests that completing the three-matchbox puzzle makes for a good sobriety test.
Speaking of sobriety, I knew there was some sort of nagging sensation that was urging me to visit the wine-tasting area set up in the main restaurant. I make my way down to the center room, set up for elegant dining. The walls are lined with wine racks, just a small sample of Vox’s 228-bottle wine library. I didn’t know much about wine on my last visit, having only experienced chardonnay and all the mockery a straight man endures when drinking it. But I have since studied wine in preparation for a California wine-tasting trip. A server hands me a glass of white wine.
“What kind of wine is this?” I ask, fully prepared to flaunt my newfound knowledge of tannins, fermentation and assorted pretentious nonsense.
“Well, it’s a blend ...” the server begins, before rattling off a series of terms that for all my mock-sommelier posturing, I couldn’t begin to comprehend. That’s what I get for reading Wine for Dummies. In my defense, I’m only up to Chapter 5. And I know enough to say that the reds, whites and champagne being served are delicious—though not nearly as delicious as the food.
The restaurant is focused on small, tapas-style plates, and there is an assortment of samples circulating the room. Chef Dustin Valette is kind enough to bring me a few plates. I try the ahi tartare, the albacore carpaccio, the Moroccan grilled lamb and little fried balls of mac and cheese, which I can say, without exaggeration, have spoiled my palette for eternity, rendering all other food unbearably bland. In fact, I’m ashamed to admit it, but after Chef Valette finishes bringing us samples, photographer Richard Brian and I relocate to where the servers bring the hors d’oeuvres out, like two gluttonous vultures circling for seconds. It gets worse. When grabbing a single item from each plate only seems to whet my appetite more, I formulate a plan to have Richard trip the server, at which point I’d gather the spilled delicacies and run, only to rendezvous with Richard later and divide our spoils. Richard’s better sense prevails, or maybe he just realizes that I’d intended to double-cross him and keep both shares.
I finally make my way out to the back patio, where I spot Mike Wardle, Vox’s original demolition man. Tonight he’s carrying a cocktail rather than a sledgehammer (though I can’t decide which makes him more dangerous). The patio has been extended since my last visit, and ornate lanterns hang in clusters just beyond the doorway, giving the outdoor area a nice, romantic glow, warmed further by several heat lamps.
My friend Justin, a Henderson resident, meets me outside and immediately begins raving about the place, saying that there aren’t nearly enough cool bars in Henderson. Vox will probably inspire the creation of a few more, but it got here first, which means Vox will be like fine wine, while its imitators are still mere grape juice.
Vox Wine Lounge
2630 W. Horizon Ridge Parkway