Chop Shop & 1st Ward: The butcher and rockers | Bleader

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Chop Shop & 1st Ward: The butcher and rockers

Posted By on 10.02.13 at 01:18 PM

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Housemade pickles at Chop Shop

You know what's hot? Live music, obviously. You know what else is hot? Artisanal butchery.

But can they be hot in the same location? That's the question, which no one had a reason to ask before Chop Shop & 1st Ward in Wicker Park came into existence.

Weaving through the vast space of a long-shuttered warehouse at 2033 W. North, Chop Shop & 1st Ward reveals a different side of its concept with every twist and turn. Up front is a butcher shop open from 9 AM to 8 PM, serving sandwiches and coffee and selling house-made Italian sausage and meats like porchetta; in the refrigerator case are jars of pickled vegetables and the house giardiniera. The butchery part is no cheffy affectation; one of the partners is Mario Minelli, as in Minelli Bros., a venerable Italian market in Niles that started not too far from the Chop Shop site in the 1950s; the meatball recipe is touted as coming from his grandmother. For Minelli, it's definitely a return of the family business to its roots, even if it's a noticeably different version of the family business.

Housemade Italian sausage

Go around the corner and you find the bar and a row of booths, but it's hard not to look past that into 1st Ward, the performance space beyond. The degree to which the bar can merge with whatever musical event is happening on the other side is completely adjustable; the soundproof doors can be closed or opened, or the music can be piped in to the rest of the space. Ty Fujimura, owner of Arami, is consulting with the three owners on the food and drink side.

1st Ward's performance space.

Take the stairs up from 1st Ward and you come to a little private outdoor space surrounded by the brick walls of adjacent buildings, and then an intimate dining room, which serves dinner starting at 5 PM. A menu of—surprise— mostly comfort-leaning Italian food is offered by chef Joshua Marelli, who worked under Michael Shrader at Epic and Urban Union. The striking urban view from the second floor puts the Blue Line at eye level.

The second-floor dining room.

So the space, or the series of spaces, offers plenty of flexibility for events—but does it make sense as a whole, Park West with sausage by the pound? Will the parts merge seamlessly when crowds fill the space? That's the question for when Chop Shop opens, most likely next week.

Owners Nick Moretti, Mario Minelli and Matt Woodburn.

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