RM Champagne Salon and the J. Parker | Ask the critic

Julia Kramer reveals everything you want to know about the season’s most talked-about bars.

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Photograph: Colin Beckett

RM Champagne Salon

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Photograph: Martha Williams

The J. Parker

RM Champagne Salon
116 N Green St (312-243-1199)

Will I be the oldest person there?—Old and in the Way
Maybe—are you over 30?

I’m a beer drinker. Am I going to look like an idiot taking a date to one of these fancy places?—Joe Sixpack
Yes and no. Yes, because, if you order anything besides wine here, you’re kind of missing the point. No, because there are only a few wines by the glass to choose from, and none of them are bad, so it’s a pretty idiot-proof experience.

What are my chances of meeting David Schwimmer and/or Jeremy Piven at this establishment?—Concerned Citizen
Low to medium. The crowd is more groups of beautiful ladies and romantic dates.

Can I even get in?—Desperate Drinker
Easily. Reservations are available on OpenTable, and I had most of the place to myself on a recent weekday. The place heats up on weekends, and on beautiful nights, patio tables are in demand—but fortunately, there are plenty of them.

Will the drinks be more than $14 each? There’s a limit to how much I’m willing to pay for a drink. And it’s $14.—Cocktail Curmudgeon
It’s easy to be sticker-shocked here. The two Champagnes available by the glass are $24 and $34, and Champagnes by the bottle start at $90. All of this can give the impression that RM is just another venue for the bottle-service crowd to burn their money. Yet, this is not wholly true, because as long as you are okay with drinking non–capital-C-Champagne sparkling wine, you can have a beautiful glass of wine for $12.

Should I pre-eat or is the food worth it?—Hungry Drinker
That depends: Do you have the appetite of a small bird? If the answer is yes, by all means partake in the itty-bitty bites (such as fried oysters) that comprise the menu here. Though the selection of cheeses is vast, portions are dainty and accompaniments pallid; the dessert cart, on the other hand, is a wondrous bounty of macarons, caramels and marshmallows. Keep in mind these are essentially snacks: You’ll have to order practically the whole menu to constitute a meal. (I almost did.)

Why would I even want to go to these places?—Over It
The old-world courtyard, with its hidden entrance through an alley, is truly lovely and special.

J. Parker
1816 N Clark St (312-254-4700)

Will I be the oldest person there?—Old and in the Way
The median age here on a recent Tuesday was possibly 40. Come to think of it, it might have been 50 with a tremendous amount of very good plastic surgery.

I’m a beer drinker. Am I going to look like an idiot taking a date to one of these fancy places?—Joe Sixpack
Not at all. Though the emphasis is on cocktails (most of which lean light and sweet), there’s actually a short but reasonable (given the locale) beer list, with $5 High Life and Tecate plus craft stuff like $6 Two Brothers Outlaw.

What are my chances of meeting David Schwimmer and/or Jeremy Piven at this establishment?—Concerned Citizen
Considering this rooftop is the closest thing in Chicago to the set of Entourage, a Piv/Schwim sighting is a definite possibility. However, the crowd is more mature and notably less awful than what you’d find at downtown rooftops, and by that I mean ROOF.

Can I even get in?—Desperate Drinker
If you want a table, reservations are a must. But once you get that reservation, don’t plan on camping out all night. 90 minutes after arriving, a hostess came over to let us know that, “No rush, but the next reservation is coming in 30 minutes.” Not exactly the BOKA Group hospitality we’ve become accustomed to….

Will the drinks be more than $14 each? There’s a limit to how much I’m willing to pay for a drink. And it’s $14.—Cocktail Curmudgeon
A better question would be: Are the drinks at the J. Parker worth $12? The answer is the same as it is for every rooftop, which is that you’re not paying for what’s in the glass but for the view that comes with it, and the view from the J. Parker is stupendous. There is nothing like it. The only problem is that after seeing a vista this bucolic and breathtaking and sweeping, the skyscraper-clogged views from downtown rooftops seem second-rate.

Should I pre-eat or is the food worth it?—Hungry Drinker
I cannot understand the approach the J. Parker has taken to its food menu, which is essentially an annoying make-your-own-small-plate exercise: e.g., meatloaf ($7) + spicy mayo ($1) + fried pickles ($4). The pickles were great, but why not just serve a bowl of them as a bar snack? Also, despite the menu’s assertion that the “kitchen reserves the right to veto certain combinations,” no one balked when we ordered the dubious mix of fried cheese, mayo and a fried egg.

Why would I even want to go to these places?—Over It
Despite the kinks, the view makes it worth it.

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