Pops for Champagne

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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.”

ANNIVERSARY CHAMPAGNE
Celebrating your own anniversary? Pops for Champagne co-owner Tom Verhey recommends a few special bottles.
Champagne Gosset Grand Reserve, $125
Served at Pops’s 30th anniversary event, this is a classic, highly respected wine. The Champagne house was family owned/operated for 400 years until the ‘90s.
Champagne J. Lassalle Rose Brut Premier, $128
This rose, which has always been a Pops favorite, is perfect for wedding anniversaries with its elegant rose color, fresh fruit flavors and lush finish.
Champagne Agrapart & Fils Blanc de Blancs, $92
Made of 100 percent Chardonnay, this Champagne boasts an impressive richness with great depth and a crisp, elegant finish.
Monte Rossa Prima Cuvée Franciacorta, $75
Franciacorta is the best sparkling wine region in northern Italy, and this wine has bright, crisp citrus notes with a creamy finish.
Illinois Sparkling Company Heirloom Rose, $58
This very unique wine, made with 100 percent Illinois grapes by a husband/wife team in Peru, is produced in a dry rose style – much like a still red wine.
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About Laura Levy Shatkin

Laura Levy Shatkin served for 10 years as food and wine critic for the Chicago Reader. Later, she became an Emmy-nominated executive producer for Taste, a 30-minute food and wine show on NBC-5 Chicago, which later merged into www.WineTasteTV.com, where Ms. Levy is a partner/owner. Today, she teaches private wine classes and hosts wine parties for consumers and firms, and continues to tell the video stories of wine, girlfriends and wine travel on her TCW blog, Wine…ing Women.