Cellar Rat, 1811 W. North Ave., is a wine shop that feels like a funky used record store. It’s the kind of wine shop that the coolest kids in the neighborhood hang out at. Spend some time in the Bucktown/Wicker Park store, and, trust us, you’ll want to go back.
From the moment you pull into its parking lot (YES, I said LOT!!), the hipness of the Cellar Rat hits you: a “Corporate Wine Still Sucks” slogan on its windows, the smell of cork and aged wine in its entryway, and the steps down, fittingly, to enter the Cellar.
This is just the vibe that owner Dean Schlabowske wants to create. He describes Cellar Rat as the “a musician’s concept of a wine shop.” His goal is to make “wine more accessible” by making his customers comfortable and breaking down the “stigma” associated with wine, like “a punk rock record store, but without the snotty attitudes.”
Clad in a T-shirt and jeans and tattoos on his forearms, Dean does a good job of making wine seem less old man and more rock star. Even without He Sips to help me with the pronunciations of fancy grapes, I felt comfortable there. Like Dean and I could hang together for awhile, sip old French wine and listen to Echo and the Bunnymen like some scene from High Fidelity, only with wine in it. High Fidelity meets Sideways. Or something like that.
Cellar Rat carries between 200 and 300 bottles of small-production, family-owned wine, which Dean has cleverly placed on retro furniture from Craigslist. This is wine you won’t necessarily find at other stores in the city–and that’s a good thing.
With two tables full of wines under $12, there’s an impressive selection of good, cheap wine, as well. For true wine geeks and those of you who will go anywhere for anything free, Cellar Rat “always has bottles open to taste,” Dean shares. And, really, what’s better than free wine?
More on the Store
Dean’s Favorite Deal: 2008 San Silvestro Cantine Piemonte Barbera Ottone I $10.99
Dean’s Girls’ Night Pick: 2008 Domaine de la Petite Cassagne $11.99
Number of Wines: 200-300
Specialties: Small, family-owned producers, as well as organic and biodynamic
Events: Free tastings every day, in addition to other monthly tasting/pairing events
Discounts: Club Rat Wine of the Month Club
(10% off 2 bottles of wine that are tailored to your personal likes and dislikes)