Another Toast For 30 Years
While most anniversaries bring great anticipation, Tom Verhey didn’t expect to be celebrating a 30th for his venerable bar, Pops for Champagne. “It feels like we’ve done it. Pops has proven to be such a solid concept, and nobody else even entered the field,” observes the co-owner.
In 1980, when Mr. Verhey walked into Reiss (an exclusively bubbly bar in Vienna, Austria), a light bulb idea would soon become a reality. “I knew I was going to do this when I got back home,” recalls Mr. Verhey, who quit his day job with Bell and Howell, then launched the original Pops for Champagne in Lakeview two years later.
Mr. Verhey and his wife, Linda, took a long shot when they opened their niche bubbly bar. They figured, somewhere along the way (and certainly before this landmark anniversary), other Chicagoans would have followed suit. “The interest in Champagne is certainly out there, and so many wine bars have opened over the years,” explains Mr. Verhey, whose daughter Sara has joined the business.
After 23 years in the cozy Lakeview space, the couple realized their customers no longer lived nearby and weren’t traveling to Pops’s densely populated neighborhood, so Pops relocated to the historic Tree Studio space on North State Street. Fortunately, the space retained a cozy, welcoming atmosphere and today customers can select from the phenomenal list of close to 200 Champagnes and sparkling wines, with by-the-glass options changing weekly. There’s also a seasonal menu of shareable plates – such as seafood, oysters, cheese and charcuterie – that pair well with the bubbly. And, as Mr. Verhey points out, his mission hasn’t veered from the original — to provide a tasting experience along with education, knowledge and respect for the wines.
Aside from offering a global selection of sparklers – from Spanish Cava to Italian Prosecco – the list is most notable for the extensive grower-producer French Champagnes you won’t find elsewhere. “These producers are multiple generations of families that have been growers for the big houses,” notes Mr. Verhey. “In the last 10 years, they’ve made small productions of their proprietary-style Champagne.” Aficionados flock to Pops for Champagne to experience this special section of the list.
Housed in the lower level is WaterShed, which features an impressive selection of small batch, artisanal beers and spirits from a variety of breweries and distilleries. TCW raises a flute to Linda and Tom Verhey and their 30 years of success. Asked about the future, Mr. Verhey wisely responds, “There’s a lot of bubbles left in Pops.”