Savory sips and songs

October 2020 View more

At Third Street’s north end in downtown Geneva you’ll find what might be one of the coziest alfresco hideaways in the suburbs. Just walk down the ivy-covered alley between wine bar Preservation and sandwich shop Atlas Chicken Shack. When you see the pergola-covered bar and trees strung with cafe lights, you’ve arrived.

Though you won’t see the name in prominent signage, it’s called Social Bar, says Lawrence Colburn, who owns both Preservation (513 S. 3rd St., 630.208.1588, and Atlas Chicken Shack (511 S. 3rd St., 331.248.0592, Here, diners can order off Preservation’s menu or from the walk-up window at Atlas. Both restaurants have had their own outdoor seating (a sunken stone patio and umbrella-topped picnic tables, respectively) for years, but Social Bar made its warm-weather debut last summer.

Squeezing in shoulder to shoulder at the bar or dropping in on a whim, though, are vestiges of the past, at least for now. To reduce crowding, reservations are required and tables are safely spaced the requisite six feet apart.

Preservation’s food menu is eclectic and conducive to grazing. Cheese and charcuterie boards are a specialty here—made infinitely clear not just by Colburn saying so, but also by the frequency they passed by my table in the hands of servers, making their way to awaiting diners. Colburn and chef Scott Nickell’s skills for sourcing impeccable imported meats and cheeses shines in other dishes, too. The sheep’s milk blue cheese from Wisconsin-based Belgioioso that accompanied the tender steak skewers was so buttery and mild that it made converts out of me and my date, both longtime blue cheese haters. Delicate slices of ham from Indianapolis maker Smoking Goose topped off layers of smoked pork, melty Swiss cheese, and crunchy pickle slices on a crunchy baguette in the Cubano.

The Korean pork belly tacos, a recent addition to the menu, tingle all the right taste buds with chili aïoli, tangy kimchi, and crunchy carrot spears, all wrapped up in griddled tortillas. I also tried the cheddar biscuit topped with pulled chicken and tomatillo sauce, but wasn’t a fan; next time I’ll save room for a fried chicken sandwich from Atlas instead.

Before opening these two restaurants, Colburn worked as a sommelier, so it’s pretty much impossible to go wrong with wine here. “We have a very European and Old World approach to wine, where we really prefer wines that are more highly acidic, not as heavy, more of what I would call drinkable wines,” Colburn says.

White fans should consider the citrusy 2018 pinot gris from the Eyrie Vineyards in Oregon or Domaine de Montorge’s 2016 Montagny 1er Cru, a mineral-forward Chardonnay that feels just right for fall nights. If you’re craving a red, try the 2016 Syrah blend from Mas de Gourgonnier, a winery in Provence that’s been making organic wines since the ’70s.

There’s live music seven nights a week (including singer-songwriter night on Mondays) and enough heaters to extend patio season well into the winter. In the mask-free moments when you’re savoring a sip to the strum of acoustic guitar under the glowing string lights, it almost feels—dare I say it—like a slice of prepandemic normalcy.

Photos courtesy Preservation; Patio image by Isabel Feldhaus