The best cure for a case of the Mondays? Um, that’d be Pops for Champagne’s $1 oyster special and live jazz set. $1 oysters between 3pm and 7pm. Live jazz with the Dan Effland Trio starting at 9pm. No cover.
Back in April, Eater was fortunate enough to sit down with Pops for Champagne owner Tom Verhey to discuss the 30 year old iconic establishment’s history and plans for expansion. Here’s a snippet from that feature:
How does it feel to make it 30 years?
I don’t really think about that as much as moving forward with things and opportunities here. I am pleased and proud that we’ve been able to withstand a lot of things over the years, but at the same time I’m focused on keeping it going. We’re still so unique and we’re not following any path. We’re able to create our own history here and it’s a refreshing feel that keeps you engaged and active in the business.
What do you think is the appeal behind Pops that people are still coming after 30 years?
Primarily it’s because we’ve never really altered from our original concept of being a Champagne bar. Effervescence and excellence has always been our main focus. We’ve been tempted to get into more food and into other elements, but overall it’s been a single bullet aimed at the Champagne respect and interest that we have. I think it carries over to the public also when you have a single direction and people can wrap themselves around the concept easier. It seems over the years people have respected us for doing that and it’s paid off.
When you first opened in Lakeview, did you ever think you’d be doing an interviewing about the 30th anniversary?
I was probably the only one that did, yes. I can be honest with that and I’m not trying to be cocky. Once I got the name Pops for Champagne and made the decision to do a Champagne bar and found a space, then I said this is the perfect name, it’s exactly what it is I want and intend to do. I said it was going to launch us. The name, on top of the location or anything else, was for me the idea for a long future.
Why did you initially want to open a Champagne-focused bar?
I came from St. Paul to Peoria and then to Chicago. I made my way to the big city and once Bell & Howell [where Verhey worked] moved me up to Chicago and once I got into the city I knew the corporate life wasn’t going to work. I had won a sales trip that took me to Vienna and I knew I wanted to do something else that I could be on my own—something more in nightlife. In Vienna, I happened to see this bar and I walked in and sat down. Almost immediately, even though it was in foreign country, it felt great. And they were all drinking Champagne. I said, ‘There’s something about this place that I think will work in Chicago.’ I went back the next night to see if I felt the same and I did. It was the Reiss Bar. I couldn’t shake that feeling. I got back home and within a week I resigned from Bell & Howell. I knew I had to do it.
You and your wife, Linda, own Pops. Is anyone else involved that deserves credit or thanks?
When we first opened it was Linda and I and then she went home and managed the kids and the home life. After that I was kind of on my own for, well, the rest of time. I’ve had important management people over the years. When we moved down to State six years ago, my daughter Sara’s involvement became the next most important thing in Pops’ history. That was a key element in running this location.
What has changed in Chicago the most that you can look back on over the 30 years, something you miss and something you’re glad is gone?
We were a pioneer back in Lakeview and there were few nightlife places back then; it was a tough neighborhood. The neighborhood came around and I knew it was going to. That transition was beneficial to Pops. I think what we all share is the amazing leap that Chicago has had in the culinary end of it, and that has benefitted us just like any change. As much as the change is, the fact that Pops stays the same, is good. We need to stay the way we are and let everyone else do the experimentations. It’s all about the tastes and flavors and visual stuff in terms of the culinary—and the more [customers] appreciate coming in here and having the same kind of experience with beverage. We are more experienced in finding unusual styles and trends in the sparkling wine business worldwide that we bring into our business here that keeps us moving forward
Read the rest of the interview here.
Pops for Champagne: 601 N State Street, Chicago IL 60611