In a Nutshell: Well, I won’t bury the lead- Billy Sunday is one of my favorite bars in Chicago. It’s not exactly an everyday spot but certainly not so expensive or niche that it’s just a special occasion destination either. It’s a wonderful sweet spot right in between due to the charming interior, attentive and unpretentious service and completely unique cocktail list.
Ambiance: Billy Sunday achieves the perfect balance of pretty without being frilly or overly feminine. A beautiful slate blue covers the walls and tin ceiling. Bar stools have cushy leather seats and backed with delicate slate blue, ivory and gold silk fabric. The back bar, the crown jewel of the small space, is just lovely. Each of the little cabinets, holding all sort of unusual liquors from around the globe, are backlit with a warm glow. The draft tower is one of understated elegance- unmarked tap knobs mounted on mother of pearl tile backsplash. A vase of fresh-cut flowers completes the vignette. To each side, in what is perhaps my favorite touch, is the open display of mismatched blue and wine China plates. And to round out the refined setting, the bar is topped with beautiful accents like cut-crystal mixing pitchers and bubble glass votives. The space is intimate and cozy, perfect for a chilly evening or a romantic date.
Service: Even though Billy Sunday is smack dab in the heart of hipsterville, you will not find even a whiff of “too cool for school” attitude. Upon entering, the staff working the host stand will make sure your bar seats are cleared and cleaned before sitting down. The patient bartenders will provide simple and accurate descriptions of their esoteric concoctions (a “Brandy, Icelandic Birch, Manzanilla Sherry, Pluot, Osha Root Bitters” cocktail, anyone?) For draft beers, they’re happy to have you sample before choosing. Water glasses do not go unfilled and drink preparation is exacting yet efficient. Above all, everyone is just really…nice. And I’m not the only one who noticed as they recently won the 2015 Jean Banchet award (“the local Oscars of dining”) for best restaurant service in the city. In my book, that’s a crowning achievement for a place that’s more bar than restaurant and is up against the likes of two and three starred Michelin fine dining establishments.
Beverages: In a tongue and cheek reference to a born-again evangelist who helped lead the temperance charge, Billy Sunday is a serious drinking bar. Their beverage list is sort of something you have to see to believe. Both in that they have a rare and unusual collection of spirits and most of the combinations they come up with are pretty wild. Fortunately, however, they do not take themselves too seriously as they have several fun and easy-drinking options (house-made crowned “booze sodas” by the bottle or bucket) as well as a very approachable yet interesting beer list. Wine is limited to several options of white, red and sparkling. Cocktails are $10-14 and beers about $7-9.
Food: Before I write a MFL post, I try a restaurant 2-4 times. I want to get a sense of a typical experience from all angles. Admittedly, in this case, I broke my own rule. I’ve only been in pre and post mealtime but I love everything else about this spot too much to hold back on a review until I have actually eaten here. I can only speak to their popcorn– excellent and adorably served in a little brown paper bag. Their menu looks interesting yet limited- snacks, jars and boards. Fittingly, the food seems to be hearty little accompaniments to the drinks- the real reason to go to Billy Sunday.
The Devil’s in the Details: Perhaps never have so many little touches added up to such a wonderful overall experience. From the gorgeous draft tower to the beautiful barware to the perfect service and carefully cultivated beverage program, Billy Sunday is a true treat to be enjoyed without needing a reason to celebrate.