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Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Avondale

Veteran Bar Manager Opening Deep Red Wine Merchant In Avondale: ‘I Want Wine To Be Approachable, Accessible And Fun’

Dave Thompson, formerly of Cherry Circle Room, The Map Room and Lula Cafe, is behind Deep Red Wine Merchant, a wine bar and bottle shop coming to Milwaukee Avenue this fall.

Dave Thompson (right) is opening a 12-seat wine bar and bottle shop in Avondale.
Mina Bloom/Block Club Chicago; Provided
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AVONDALE — A cozy wine bar and bottle shop from a bar industry veteran is coming to Avondale this fall.

Dave Thompson, who most recently ran the bar programs at The Chicago Athletic Association’s Cherry Circle Room and The Map Room, is opening Deep Red Wine Merchant at 2901 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Deep Red patrons will be able to enjoy a glass of wine at one of the window seats or grab a bottle to go. The bar — Thompson’s first — will only have about a dozen seats so people feel comfortable gathering during the pandemic.

Thompson aims for an October opening.

“I want to be a neighborhood staple; I don’t want to be a neighborhood superstar,” Thompson said. “I want it to feel familiar and feel comfortable, [with patrons saying], ‘It’s so-and-so at Deep Red and I have that relationship,’ like, ‘Hey, I’m cooking X tonight. What should I pick up?'”

Credit: Mina Bloom/Block Club Chicago
Deep Red Wine Merchant is taking over a newly renovated corner storefront at 2901 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Thompson is drawing on years of experience working for Chicago bars and restaurants to craft the wine menu at Deep Red.

Contrary to what the bar’s name suggests, Deep Red will serve a variety of wine sourced from all over the world — not just red wine. The bar is actually named after one of Thompson’s favorite movies, the 1975 Italian horror flick “Deep Red.”

Thompson said he’s specifically seeking out wine from makers who are Black, Indigenous and people of color and members of the LGTBQ community — people who’ve been under-represented in the wine industry.

Unlike other bars, Deep Red will close early, at 8 p.m., but it will occasionally host educational wine classes that run later, Thompson said.

“I’ve been in the industry for 17 years, and I’ve worked until 2 and 4 in the morning, and I’m done,” Thompson said. “There comes a time when you feel like you can contribute, but you don’t have to break your back or anything like that. It can still be fun.”

Thompson’s restaurant and bar career started in 2004, when he got a job as a food runner at Logan Square’s Lula Cafe. After working at Lula for a few years, he became assistant manager at the beer-focused Bucktown bar The Map Room, a job he held for eight years.

Most recently, Thompson managed the bar program at The Chicago Athletic Association’s Cherry Circle Room, where he developed a renewed interest in wine. The Downtown bar has a massive wine selection of 1,200 labels, Thompson said.

“I was going to classes about wine, working very closely with the wine director at the time. It rekindled my love of wine that I had when I initially started at Lula,” he said.

Thompson said wine can be intimidating to people who aren’t familiar. There’s a “stigma attached to wine that’s stuffy and not fun, that you have to know a ton of knowledge before you can even begin to appreciate wine,” he said.

With Deep Red, Thompson wants to break down those barriers so everyone — even first-timers — can appreciate a glass of wine.

“I want wine to be accessible, approachable and fun. That’s the main thing I want to accomplish with this,” he said.

Credit: Provided
Owner Dave Thompson in Deep Red’s future Avondale home.

Deep Red will fill a corner store at Milwaukee and Allen avenues that recently underwent a renovation. Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) rejected a developer’s proposal to build a 19-unit apartment project on the site after community pushback.

Thompson is requesting a zoning change because the site’s zoning doesn’t allow for a package goods license. The zoning change is going up for approval next week, according to Ramirez-Rosa’s office.

Thompson expects to spend the next few months obtaining proper city licensing and renovating the spot, which he found last year during the Take a Walk on Milwaukee open house, an event designed to revitalize Avondale’s Milwaukee Avenue.

Thompson’s wife owns flower and gift shop Fleur.

“I feel pretty elated being able to have the opportunity to own my place, have my own program, share knowledge with people and have a knowledgable staff. It’s just a dream come true,” Thompson said.

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