Toast of the Town: City Winery Celebrating One-Year Anniversary in the Windy City

2013-07-29T16:30:00Z Toast of the Town: City Winery Celebrating One-Year Anniversary in the Windy CityBy Philip Potempa nwitimes.com
July 29, 2013 4:30 pm  • 

Entrepreneur Michael Dorf's surprise gift arrived a month early to mark his one-year anniversary creating Chicago's newest cultural and culinary venue.

Dorf's creative mind launched City Winery at 1200 W. Randolph St., which opened its doors August 1, 2012.

He opened his first City Winery flagship location in 2008 in New York City, with the Chicago West Loop neighborhood address as the second location, while using the same successful formula offering a winery, restaurant and concert hall melded as a one stop hot spot.

His better-than-can-be-believed early anniversary gift to celebrate his Windy City success came at midnight June 30, when Prince dropped by following a same-day notice, to do an afterhours concert for a capacity, standing-room-only crowd of 400 at City Winery Chicago.

The recording artist was in Chicago to perform at the wedding reception of film director-producer George Lucas and Ariel Investments President Mellody Hobson. He arrived on stage just after 2 a.m., joined by his trio 3rdEyeGirl, the 22-piece New Power Generation band and the model Damaris. The nearly two hour set included such classic hits as "1999" and "Glamorous Life."

"We got the call that he would be coming at 2 p.m. Saturday and agreed to the stipulations we were provided," Dorf says.

"By 4 p.m., we were able to announce the limited tickets available and they sold out in 33 minutes. This is exactly the kind of special impromptu events, along with the announced programming, I've always imagined for this space."

Dorf, who founded the Knitting Factory music venue in the late ’80s in New York, uses his many connections that come from his 25 years in the entertainment field to assure the stage offerings at his venues are unique and diverse.

"I say starting these City Winery locations amounts to one of the most selfish things I've ever done for myself, because the idea for this project came from what I wanted create to satisfy what I've always thought a night of entertainment and fun should be," he says.

"When I'm out, I don't want to stand to watch a performance I've paid for and I don't want the stage space to be in a smoky bar. I want a nice selection of wines, served in a nice wine glass and I want the food to be as special and unique as the talent I'm seeing on stage."

In the past year, Dorf has booked an amazing range of names at City Winery Chicago to entertain guests. From the comedy of Sandra Bernhard and "Saturday Night Live" funny gal Julia Sweeney to a dinner and movie discussion night with actor and director Ed Burns to the music of Rosanne Cash, Dave Mason and Mavis Staples.

"I've brought in many of my own favorites at our locations, from Elvis Costello to comedian Lewis Black," Dorf says.

"But what people sometimes don't realize is we are a fully operational winery, restaurant with our own outdoor patio and private event space, in addition to the main 300 seat concert hall."

He says he's found one of the reasons so many guests return for repeat visits is the chance to be up and close with favorite famous names, who often mingle with guests or sign and pose for fan photographs following a performance.

"I like to say it helps that we fill the artist up with great food and drink right here at the performance space, so there's no reason for anyone to want to rush off," Dorf says.

Up next, Dorf says he's opening another City Winery in Napa, California in February 2014, following by a location likely in Nashville in Fall 2014.

"To explain everything a City Winery location offers for guests is really a mouthful, which means we're doing everything right," Dorf says.

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