Park Avenue Wine Bar & Merchant: Good Wine and Conversation

Park Avenue Wine Bar features a slick, stylish bar.

Steve and Melissa Berry have always appreciated a good glass of wine. It’s been a passion that the couple has carried with them throughout their travels, including stops in Seattle and Los Angeles, where the former attorneys once lived. “It definitely brings people together,” says Steve, a collector. “Wine is like food. Sitting by other people drinking wine – that starts conversations.”

Now, the Berrys are sharing that affection and knowledge with local wine lovers. A few years ago, they moved back to the Chicago area with their small children, to be closer to Melissa’s family. Last March, they opened a chic new place in downtown Barrington called Park Avenue Wine Bar & Merchant, which features exquisite wine and good food in a comfortable atmosphere.

“The key to success for us will be to keep it fresh and interesting for people,” says Steve, 43. “A little bit of elegance, but at the same time we don’t have a dress code. It’s a laid-back place. Anyone can sidle up to the bar. We want to be the first place you think of when you take your wife or husband out.”

The new business is a family affair. It’s located next door to McGonigal’s, an Irish Pub owned by Melissa’s brother, Bryan McGonigal, in a building that once housed a hardware store and bank. Melissa, a Palatine native, manages the property, which is owned by her father, Dennis McGonigal.

The two restaurants share some facilities, including restrooms, kitchen and office space, but that’s where the similarities end. “I think we have two distinct vibes,” says Steve, whose place not only draws locals but commuters from the nearby train station. “Park Avenue is a place you might come on a date. The pub is for people who want to check out the game in a casual dining atmosphere with family and friends. The girls can eat here while the boys are over there.”

Park Avenue has a very urban feel. The main level features a curved marble bar, with a blue-toned backdrop, floor-to-ceiling shelving for wine storage, and exposed brick walls showcasing original paintings and photographs. A cozy nook with chairs and couches, ideal for quiet conversation, is tucked in the corner, and black chairs, made from recycled corks, line the bar. Located upstairs are two smaller private dining rooms, suited for business lunches and small get-togethers. Large windows, blue-tinted panels and gold lamps provide ample lighting throughout the building. “People come in and say, ‘Wow, this has a real downtown Chicago feel,’” Steve says. “It’s an amalgamation of places I’ve been to, but really, it grew organically out of the space itself.”

Steve’s bar features wine-friendly food. Salads, soups and sandwiches are popular lunchtime choices. The menu also includes mussels, oysters and a variety of appetizers, including bruschetta. “Our food is less formal, less of a sit-down situation,” he says. “To us, that means foods that can be shared with different glasses of wine.”

Speaking of wine, Park Avenue features plenty – 25 by the glass and a list of 70 by the bottle. There’s also a full-bar menu, including a popular Bloody Mary bar on Sundays. Park Avenue has three sommeliers, trained in wine tasting, pairings and purchasing, along with creating wine lists. The restaurant also hosts several wine dinners and sells bottles to take home.

“We try to do a global list, covering a wide range of styles, new world and old world,” Steve says. “We like to change up the menu, so the ones you see on the list will change periodically. We look for wines that are fun and that we can be creative with. We put a lot of time into training our staff, so they can talk knowledgeably about the wines. They taste wines and talk about the wines, so they can make recommendations. Here, it’s all about the wine.” ❚