Byline: Elaine Glusac
The People’s Bard
In the nearly 400 years since his death, playwright William Shakespeare has become misunderstood, the darling of intellectuals too demanding for the everyman. So says the Chicago Shakespeare Theater which, in its move to the city’s tourist hub Navy Pier, attempts to restore the Bard to the people.
“People forget how slapstick funny, how sexually funny Shakespeare could be,” said Alita Szabo, director of audience development for the repertory company.
Chicago Shakespeare planted itself firmly in the mainstream by moving to Navy Pier last fall. Now, Bill’s name is up in lights on a 60-foot marquee that competes for attention with dinner cruise boats, trinket stands, strolling clowns and a 15-story Ferris wheel.
Elizabethan audiences attended Shakespeare’s plays in a similar carnival-like setting, on the banks of London’s Thames, contended Szabo. “There was probably bear-baiting down the street. Shakespeare is preserved like a museum piece. But his was a contemporary form of entertainment.”
The Chicago company also quoted period theaters in constructing its intimate, 525-seat venue in courtyard fashion. Three tiers of seating flank the thrust stage on three sides, making audiences feel more like participants than spectators.
Despite its populist setting, the company claims it remains committed to the entire Shakespearean canon, including history and tragedy, as well as comedy. But it concludes its Navy Pier inaugural season on a funny note, with “All’s Well That Ends Well” (April 20-June 4) after the ribald “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” closes March 26. For tickets call 312-595-5600.
It’s Bin Great
Out of fashion for a good decade or so, the wine bar is back in Chicago, taking up the “drink better, not more” pitch that propelled micro-breweries in the Nineties. In Chicago, the wine bar scene began resurfacing when both Cru Cafe and the Tasting Room opened within the last year. But by far the most ambitious of the new vintages is Bin 36, a suave River North resident that combines a wine shop and tasting room with an upscale restaurant.
“Most people think wine is expensive, complicated or snotty,” said co-owner Dan Sachs, by way of explaining the challenge of dealing with the intimidation factor faced by players in the wine business. “The idea of combining retail and restaurant was the perfect answer to taking away that mysticism.”
From bordeaux to zinfandel, every variety on the 50-strong wine list at Bin 36 is both poured by the glass and sold by the bottle. The bar specializes in assembling and offering wine flights — tasting selections of four similar varieties — intended to introduce budding oenophiles to, say, the complexity and range of Rhone reds and sauvignon blancs.
The wine-friendly food, meanwhile, ranges from sample-ready appetizers of pates and sausages to elegant entrees of crispy striped bass and spit-roasted pork.
Cranking the food and wine experience up a notch, the spacious store gracefully addresses its warehouse dimensions and industrial duct-work with floor-to-ceiling pillar drapes, smart blond-wood tables and a zinc-topped oval bar. An entire wall of windows frames gorgeous views of the district, views which tend to get increasingly romantic with each sip from the vine.
Sachs, who also owns the highly praised restaurant Spruce, describes Bin 36 as a mom-and-pop shop for the new millennium. “It’s almost like a corner wine shop where you know the owner, and the owner’s always there, but in a restaurant environment where you can taste food with the wine, and see how the whole thing works.”