UPTOWN — Public meetings related to liquor licenses tend to be contentious affairs.
Not so with Darren McGraw's proposal to open Ampersand Wine Bar at 1742 W. Lawrence Ave., which received a warm welcome from neighbors.
"It's a great idea," said Rina Lake, one of about 20 residents who turned out Monday night to listen to McGraw's plans. "We want this."
The meeting, held in the vacant corner storefront McGraw aims to occupy by late May or early June, was the first step in the process toward lifting the liquor license moratorium that exists on Lawrence Avenue between Ravenswood and Ashland — originally put in place to target a single disruptive establishment.
The moratorium would go back into effect after a year, said Jim Poole of the 47th Ward Office.
McGraw will be applying for a tavern license, meaning his primary business will be the sale of alcohol, but he was quick to assure neighbors that he was aiming for "refined service."
"The community is something we're invested in personally," said McGraw, who grew up in Rogers Park and after kicking around the West Coast for several years, moved back to Chicago in 2012, settling in Ravenswood.
Ampersand, according to McGraw, will offer a rotating selection of 25 wines available by the glass, with a handful of varietals specifically sourced from Midwestern wineries. The average price would be $6-$12 per glass, with the majority leaning toward the lower end. Options would also include two to three beers, but no spirits.
"I want people to feel as comfortable with wine as they do a microbrew," he said.
Though he won't be building out a full kitchen, McGraw intends to offer food, ranging from bar munchies like pickled vegetables to a short list of entrees that could include braised short ribs or brisket.
"I'll keep it simple and limited, but not limiting," he said of the menu.
Indoor seating will accommodate 35 people, including the bar, with a sidewalk cafe on Hermitage adding space for another 20-25 patrons in the summer, according to McGraw.
A pastry chef by training, McGraw, 41, also plans on opening up a pass-through window to the sidewalk on Lawrence, serving up espresso and breakfast foods in the morning.
A wine bar and local coffee shop were two of the most popular ideas generated for the vacant storefront during a "possibility potluck" held in August, aimed at brainstorming ideas to make Lawrence Avenue more vibrant and draw more foot traffic.
"It's nice to see this come to fruition," said Clayton Jirak, a board member of the Ravenswood Community Council, one of the organizers of the potluck.
"We were really promoting this area," he said. "Our goal was to make this a community-supported effort."
Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) said he'll sign off on the lifting of the liquor license moratorium, with plans to bring the ordinance before City Council in March.
"I think it's going to be a great addition to what we're trying to do on Lawrence," he said.
With Mariano's and LA Fitness set to open in March, a crop of small businesses have been attracted to the area that encompasses Ravenswood and Uptown, including Roots Pizza, Band of Bohemia and Wax Man Spa, which will be Ampersand's next-door neighbor.
"Lawrence is ripe for development on this strip," said McGraw. "And right now, it's still affordable."