by Mike Sula
I don't recall annoying more people with a restaurant review than I did last summer when I wrote about Premise. For the most part, all those aggrieved Andersonvillians weren't whinging at what I said about the new restaurant, but at a perceived slight on Anne Carlson and Cody Modeer, the bartenders who took over the previous restaurant—In Fine Spirits—after the exceptionally talented Ben Schiller left.
I didn't even mention either one by name, but it was clear the pair had a deep and devoted following—which might just follow them north, where they've opened their own place in Evanston. That a modern craft cocktail bar of Ward Eight's caliber has opened in the once-dry home of the Women's Christian Temperance Union is remarkable in its own right, but Carlson and Modeer, who live above the bar with their baby, received (over Frances Willard's dead body) thousands of dollars worth of subsidies from the Evanston City Council* in order to open (a situation not uncontroversial among certain taxpayers). It's additionally remarkable that the bar is located on the suburban side of the occasionally troubled Howard Street. You can get a drink elsewhere on the Chicago side, but at the Tally Ho Pub directly across the street they won't let you in unless you're over 30.
You only need to be 21 to get into Ward Eight, but the crowd, for the time being, skews white and over 30 anyway (with the occasional appearance of the baby and sitter), a demographic not in line with the more diverse character of the neighborhood, which is also home to a number of notable restaurants including Chez Violette, Badou Senegalese Cuisine, and the Fish Keg. Carlson and Modeer have transformed the small storefront into something dark and intimate, with a long and overwhelmingly classic menu of over two dozen cocktails. There's no reinventing of the Sazerac going on here, but there is a full spectrum of expertly mixed potions, from light effervescences like the gin-and-sparkling French 75 to bitter boozers like the rye-Fernet Toronto, all ranging from $7 to $12, and accented with nice touches like whiskey-saturated Amarena cherries and hand-carved ice balls. There are a dozen wines too, a half dozen mostly midwestern beers, $5 house shots (such as yellow chartreuse and bitters), and a "temperance" category featuring tea, upmarket sodas, and Dark Matter coffee.
In some ways, Ward Eight is a rebirth of In Fine Spirits, particularly with the snacky menu—which will be familiar to fans of its former chef, Marianne Sundquist. That's because she developed it. There's an assortment of cheese and charcuterie (shaved behind the bar from a deli slicer), a couple of sandwiches, marinated olives, zaatar-spiced marcona almonds, roasted brussels sprouts and cauliflower, and more.
Above all, Carlson and Modeer themselves add the most critical requisite for a bar of any kind. They're engaging, friendly hosts, and a place like Ward Eight is exactly what Evanston—and the far-north side of Chicago, in fact—have been in desperate want of. It's a smart investment on the part of our neighbors to the north.
Ward Eight, 629 Howard, 773-369-4911