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Ever since restaurateur Aldo Zaninotto (Osteria Langhe) took over the bygone Quiote space in Logan Square with plans to open Roman-inspired restaurant Testaccio, he’s envisioned something special for the subterranean bar that previously housed moody mezcal bar Todos Santos. Today, that “something special” is Soif.
“Being in the basement, it’s not so exposed, like the kind of place you’d find only by word of mouth,” says Zaninotto, a longtime wine rep whose knack for creating inviting, regional Italian eateries first manifested in Piedmontese Osteria Langhe, also in Logan Square. “I knew I wanted to create a cozy place for people to relax, meet friends and discover great wine.”
Of course, navigating Testaccio’s debut in the grips of a pandemic came first — which prompted a four-month closure before the restaurant reopened in February 2021. As Testaccio hit its stride with a menu of Mediterranean-tinged Italian dishes and wines inspired by the Roman neighborhood from which it gets its name, Zaninotto refocused his energy on Soif, the sultry wine lounge waiting beneath Testaccio’s lively dining room. The bar recently opened with a curated (mostly French) wine list, Champagne, cocktails and small plates. We caught up with Zaninotto, recently back from Paris no less, on what to expect when we descend those stairs.
1. Soif is inspired by the new generation of Parisian wine bars.
Named Soif (pronounced “swoff”) after the French word for thirst, which wine industry folks often colloquially use to denote the sort of thirst only wine can satiate, the bar is inspired by the inviting, low-lit wine bars you’d happen upon across Paris’s 20 walkable arrondissements. Zaninotto hopes the industry nod likewise lures fellow hospitality workers looking for a spot to wind down that still excites them, beverage-wise.
“There’s such great energy with these Parisian wine bars, particularly with the new generation of people there,” Zaninotto says. “They’re bringing over incredible producers; the wine lists aren’t huge but really nice. And you’re discovering things you’ve never heard of. They draw you in not just for the wine, but that friendly feel that’s also very French.”
The 30-seat bar designed by Boone Interiors’ Erin Boone features a palette of reds, dark rose, and purple to emphasize the seductive vibe of hole-in-the-wall Parisian wine bars. Plush red-velvet banquettes sourced from dearly departed West Loop bistro La Sardine and lounge tables and chairs scattered across area rugs are softly illuminated by a large candelabra chandelier. The vibe encourages customers to sit rather than belly up at the bar.
Although Soif has a 3 a.m. liquor license on weekends and features a DJ booth, the bar leans lounge-y and relaxed rather than clubby. Zaninotto’s son and booking coordinator Alec Zaninotto will book rotating artists spanning jazz, disco, soul, and reggae genres — transitioning from soft, laid-back tunes to high-energy beats as the night progresses.
Soif opens at 5:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays as a pre-dinner option for Testaccio diners. Starting at 7 p.m., the interior entry to the bar will close, and customers will enter instead through exterior stairs on Altgeld St. Reservations are available on Resy and walk-ins can text a phone number posted on signage to be alerted about table openings.
2. The wine list incentivizes drinkers to order by the bottle.
Zaninotto collaborated on the beverage program with beverage manager and sommelier Alyssa Missurelli (Bar avec, Cafe Cancale, The Purple Pig). Roughly 90% of Soif’s 50- to 60 bottle selection comprises French wines. Soif also offers about a half-dozen glass pours, focusing on Champagne. Zaninotto is leaning into the contacts he built up over 15 years in the wine business to create a list that mixes a few classics with lower-intervention and skin-contact wines, with inspiration coming largely from Burgundy. Bottle prices range from $50 to about $90, with a concentration in the $60s and $70s.
“I’m telling my distributors we’re aiming for right in the middle between retail and restaurant prices. There are a lot of great wines out there that you don’t have to mark up that much. It’s about people enjoying a bottle with friends, but also, like, ‘wow, I’ve never had that type of wine at that price.’ We’ll really incentivize wines by the bottle, which for two to four people who would spend $16 on a cocktail is a great price to try some incredible wines.”
One bottle that fits said bill? The Famille Dutraive Saint Amour 2018 “Clos du Chapitre” from Beaujolais. “Classically carbonic with slight effervescence and a smoky, lively profile,” it represents the new generation of vintners devoted to natural winemaking, Zaninotto says.
A focused cocktail program highlights French spirits and aperitifs, assorted brandies and traditional liqueurs. Think Sidecars with Frapin 1270 Cognac, Cedar Ridge Single Malt, Bailoni Apricot liqueur, lemon and simple syrup; and a vegan take on a flip, with aquafaba instead of egg white, La Higuera Sotol tequila and Vergano Maraschino.
3. Expect simple, French-inspired small plates for noshing.
The tight, wine-loving food menu from Testaccio executive chef Jacob Solomon features lighter, snacky items, such as cold cuts and cheese boards from local and French producers; tinned conservas; housemade gougeres filled with alpine raclette cheese and served with bass mornay; creamy pâtes; and truffles and macarons for dessert. Zaninotto may be most excited about the classic caviar service, which complements the “incredible” Champagnes by the glass. Running for $60 to $70, the program features smoked trout roe, sturgeon, kaluga, and whitefish from local purveyor Rare Tea Cellars alongside crème fraîche and housemade Aleppo-dill potato chips.
“As with everything, the goal is to keep it fun, keep it classy, keep it traditional, and always with that good French energy,” Zaninotto says.