LINCOLN PARK — Chicago’s thick with exclusive social scenes — from the swank business crowd at the Union League Club in the Loop to the blue-collar fishermen at Wolf Lake Rod and Gun Club on the Southeast Side — where membership provides a welcome escape.
A couple years back, Kim Bosse and Sharon Provins decided they wanted a neighborhood boys club of their own, only with a feminine touch.
Bosse’s job marketing a bar and restaurant chain that started selling off properties was about to end. Provins, who moved to Seattle with her husband, was looking for a new business opportunity. The best friends since, well, forever, struck up a conversation about how great it would be to have a “third place.”
“You go to work. Home is filled with responsibility. This is a third place where you can escape, open a good bottle of wine from Napa Valley and have a good conversation with your friends," Bosse said.
“We’re older, but still like going to bars. There are still a lot of good bars out there, and it’s fun. But you don’t always want to go to a bar. It’s for those times when me and my husband — we have two kids — go out to dinner and it’s just the two of us. We might not want to go to a bar, but we don’t want to go home, either.”
In May, Bosse and Provins teamed up to open a secret clubhouse in Lincoln Park called Birch Road Cellar, a members-only, bring-your-own-bottle social club that gets its name from the suburban Northbrook street the founders grew up on as kids.
The club is on Armitage, but I promised not to tell you the address.
After all, there’s no sign for a reason. Members don't even get a key to the place. To enter Birch Road Cellar, they must put their index finger on a fingerprint scanner that unlocks the front door.
On a recent Friday night, I brought my own wine and met Bosse at her club to, well, drink for free. That's one of the club's major selling points.
“Once they’re inside, members never spend money with us,” Bosse said. “They can leave their wallet at home.”
Inside, the former photo studio feels like a windowless loft with a massive “kitchen,” a dining room with a 14-seat table and a giant living room decorated with clusters of comfy couches and chairs.
Downstairs is the temperature-controlled cellar — protected by another fingerprint scanner — where members have a locker to store their fancy wines, small-batch bourbons and rare craft beers, among other libations.
“The one thing that ties all our members together is that they’re all at a certain point in life. They want a place to go out with friends and appreciate a nice environment. They appreciate a good drink, good wine from small wineries, good scotch. They have a passion for something created with care,” Bosse said.
“We always joke that once you become a member, you start drinking better stuff. People start going to liquor stores to get really good wine or liquor and storing it here to enjoy instead of paying restaurant markup.”
After all, Birch Road Cellar is a place you can pamper yourself, literally.
There’s no staff uncorking bottles, mixing drinks, spinning records or, for better or worse, cleaning up party fouls.
“We make sure members have everything they need, and there’s a consistent experience,” Bosse said.
The kitchen, which feels more like a private bar, is stocked with bartender tools and fancy mixers for stirring up your own cocktails, sweet and savory snacks and enough dishes and glassware for a dinner party.
Last weekend, a group of members who met hanging out at Birch Road Cellar organized a dinner party with a private chef and spent the evening sharing stories and tasty bottles from their private lockers.
Some nights, Bosse brings in coffee experts, mixologists and craft beer and spirit connoisseurs to host private events for members.
And, Bosse said, the members don’t all drink Bordeaux with their pinkies in the air.
“There’s a really diverse group of people — an even mix of men and women,” she said. “There are lawyers and doctors, tech people and a lot of people who run a business from home. We have a Chicago fireman, artists and construction workers. You could be sharing a glass with a contractor or a CEO. The thing is, once you get here, everybody is just a member.”
If you want to be a member, though, you have to go through Bosse and Provins, who are the cheerful gatekeepers of their very own clubhouse.
“We meet everyone personally, chat a bit, see what they’re looking for and we’re happy to let them join if they want to join,” Bosse said.
Monthly dues are less than 90 bucks, and there’s no contract for a good reason.
“We’re not looking to lock someone in for years,” Bosse said. “If someone isn’t feeling it's working out, no big deal.”
Later this month, the ladies of Birch Road Cellar are hosting a club open house in search of new members who might fit right in.
But even if you figure out the club’s secret location, you can’t just show up to get a look around.
“Word has spread, naturally, and we’ve been growing steadily, but we’re hard to find,” Bosse said. “We allow a certain number of memberships each month, but in February we’re looking to open up even more, keeping in mind it’s always important to us that members don’t have to fight for a seat.”
Bosse and Provins have set up a special email that doubles as a secret knock for prospective members to sign up for a tour Feb. 25-26.
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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