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Commonwealth Opens Thursday, Tavern Aims for Casual Sophistication

By Patty Wetli | February 6, 2014 11:11am
 Commonwealth aims to elevate the sports bar concept.
Commonwealth Opening
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ROSCOE VILLAGE — Good food and sports bars do not have to be mutually exclusive.

That's the concept behind Commonwealth Tavern, opening Thursday at 2000 W. Roscoe St. in the space formerly occupied by Mulligan's Public House.

Owner Matt Baldino's models for the 88-seat eatery were Longman & Eagle and Owen & Engine with one notable difference (well, besides the absence of an ampersand): "We are going to show sports in here," he said.

"I love Longman, but I can't watch a game in there," said Baldino, who sold his shares in Lakeview's Four Shadows sports bar prior to partnering with pals Mike Kelley and Howard Kruse on Commonwealth.

"I wanted a place where you could watch the Blackhawks and not have to eat garbage, where you could watch TV and not have to feel like you weren't hip enough," he said.

Baldino's aim with his newest venture is to be "exactly what people say you can't be in business — a little something for everyone. I don't think you have to pander to one demographic."

Miller Lite will have a place next to Half Acre behind the bar. Beet bruschetta and a meatball sub share space on the menu.

"I want everyone to feel welcome," said Baldino, a rapid-fire conversationalist. "Plenty of people want to drink Coors — that doesn't make them white trash."

The name Commonwealth reflects the inclusive atmosphere the owners hope to achieve.

"It came from us trying to find a one-word name that involved the concept of community or a village," he explained. "Commonwealth means 'for the greater good.'"

The second-youngest of seven siblings, Baldino has, in effect, created the kind of place he'd like to hang out with his family. With the majority of the clan, including Matt, settled in Roscoe Village, Commonwealth is aimed at appealing to everyone from Baldino's sports-loving brother to his sister and her brood of six.

There will be breakfast breads and coffee in the morning — Commonwealth turned to Sparrow Coffee to craft proprietary blends — with lunch and dinner service firmly in the hands of executive chef Kevin Church and sous chef Graeme Glass.

Church is a veteran of Owen & Engine. Glass worked at Longman. Their farm-to-table experience is evident in dishes like the Slagel Farm pork chop and grits made from heirloom Anson Mills grains.

They're young, Baldino said, but have "worked with talented people" and "have a real pedigree behind them."

Commonwealth's decor reflects Baldino's motto of "casually sophisticated" and the partners' love of wood.

The facade has been wrapped in cedar, giving the northwest corner of Roscoe and Damen a complete makeover, and the interior features plenty of dark walnut. The mahogany bar was fabricated from wood reclaimed from a West Side bowling alley.

Regardless of how the public receives Commonwealth, Baldino is already pleased with the outcome.

Two nights before the official opening, at the restaurant's friends and family preview, he found himself surrounded by his parents, Kelley and a former teacher from Loyola Academy. He tucked into his pork chop, brussels sprouts and grits, with the Bulls playing in the background.

"I had the best night," he said.