Food & Drinks

Fine Dining Heavyweight Curtis Duffy to Open a Cocktail Bar

The owners of Ever, the luxurious tasting-menu restaurant, have been quietly growing their footprint in Fulton Market. Next month, chef Curtis Duffy and wine director Michael Muser are opening a bar and a private event space. The bar, After, will debut in October (reservations are already live) in the same building that’s housed Ever since 2020.

The building sits on a stretch of Fulton Street west of the hoopla of Randolph Restaurant Row; it’s quiet, especially at night. Muser says he’s watched numerous diners walk out of Ever and look around for nightlife options, ready to continue their night. Instead, they concede and jump into their rideshare. Ever already owned unused space (they share the building with vacuum maker Dyson and Skender construction).

“After a while, we got talking with the building about what we might put there, about what would work there, what made sense there,” Muser says.

Ever promises a drink for everyone.
Ever/Michael Muser

Ever earned two Michelin stars earlier this year, an achievement that made staff proud during the pandemic (“Staffing is the challenge of our time,” Muser says.) For a spell, Ever even began serving to-go food in 2020, a move few could have forecasted while co-owners Duffy and Muser were earning a three-star rating at Grace, the West Loop restaurant that closed five years ago.

Designers at Lawton Stanley Architects carried over Ever’s abstract futuristic feel – and in some ways, After is a continuation of the Ever experience, with a 14-seat, curved bar out of a sci-fi show; fancy chairs from renowned European designer, and the same Venetian plaster that makes visitors feel like they’re on a lunar landing: “At Ever, when you walk in, the outside world is gone,” Muser says. “There are no windows. This is kind of an otherworldly experience.”

A drink in a straight glass.

There will be eight to 10 “food focused” cocktails.
Ever/Michael Muser

Though customers won’t find sticky floors and a jukebox at After, they will find touches that pay tribute to old-time Chicago taverns like a backlit back bar with a walnut liquor display. The lounge takes up about 4,000 square feet: “I want it to be a place where people can have a bit of intimacy, where they can people-watch,” Muser says.

Muser and company do promise top-notch service, an Ever hallmark. An After news release stresses “affordably priced beverages like beer alongside rarer spirits and elevated cocktails.” Muser also promises an impressive selection of wines by the glass. If a customer wants a riesling, “I’m going to give the best one you’ve ever had in your life,” Muser says.

After will offer some vintage spirits. Ever GM Amy Cordell mentions a century flight of Armagnac brandy with a vintage pour from vintages from the 1800s, 1900s, and 2000s. But cocktails from Ever’s lead bartender Luis Rodriguez are the highlights. The menu has three main sections — a set of 10 tweaked classics (like an Old Fashioned made with Armagnac), eight to 10 non-alcoholic drinks, and another eight to 10 drinks to pair with dishes menu items like caviar, plus meats and vegetables skewered and cooked on a hibachi.

For the most part, the drink recipes are simple: “All of our cocktails highlight the spirits themselves,” says Cordell.

Brown liquor in a classy high ball glass.

Rare spirits are available, but they’re not the focus.
Ever/Michael Muser

Rodriguez wants to give customers something they couldn’t mix from their home bar: “What I tell people is ‘don’t go out of an average experience; make it extraordinary,’”

The bar will accept walk-ins, but every seat is available via reservation on Tock. There are also a few rooms ideal for groups. Muser calls one “the walnut room.” No, Duffy’s not making chicken pot pie, but there’s a fireplace. Another private space, the Observatory, which can accommodate up to 10, is in the works..

Beyond the bar, the duo is also opening a private event room called Canvas by Ever. They’re not quite yet ready for reservations, but groups of eight to 80 will be able to choose from an assortment of packages, Muser says, or they can customize an experience. Ever has created a new website to handle event requests.

Fine Dining Heavyweight Curtis Duffy to Open a Cocktail Bar

After won’t have too many ingredients in its drinks.
Ever/Michael Muser

Fine Dining Heavyweight Curtis Duffy to Open a Cocktail Bar

Ever promises a variety of drinks.
Ever/Michael Muser

The private event space, Canvas, targets corporate affairs, weddings, and more. Renderings reveal an all-white room. The space gives customers interested in an event another option. Even with a rooftop terrace, two private dining rooms, and the option to buy out the restaurant, the kitchen — one of the most modern in Chicago — was feeling burdened, Muser says. The expansion allows Duffy and chef de cuisine Justin Selk to work undisturbed.

After takes a different approach than the Aviary, the cocktail bar from Alinea Group, powered by a cellar full of hard-to-find spirits with elaborate presentations. After might be the biggest upscale bar to open since Kumiko debuted in 2018 in West Loop.

Muser and Duffy continue to expand their operations. Though there are no plans for pandemic-born ghost kitchen Reve Burger to return, Muser and Duffy continue to expand their footprint. ‘Never say never,’ Muser says”

After, 1338 W. Fulton Street, planned for an October 27 opening, reservations live via Tock.

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