Hi I’m Andrew Algren. I’m the wine director here on the second floor of the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel. Overseeing all operations for Land and Sea Dept here out of Chicago in the hotel. So overseeing the lobby, the Game Room, and the mainstay of the wine program which is the Cherry Circle Room, which has been an absolute blast so far.
Q1: Tell us about your path to becoming sommelier at Chicago Athletic Association
I came to this job from Alinea Restaurant in Lincoln Park where I spent about two and a half years on the wine team there, starting as kind of the new hire baby somm on the program – getting hired actually at the same time as Mr. Steven Morgan over at Formento’s a dear friend and definitely a serious inspiration – working my way there on the floor during that time and then about the last seven months I spent there as the Senior Sommelier overseeing the buying operations and working on the pairings with John Leopold who is still over there and has that role now.
Q2: What did you drink last night, and why?
Fino Sherry. We had some open and it was about to go past where we date all of our things so it was day two and a half, and I figured why not, it was a bottle of the Equipo Navazos – it was their just straight Fino Sherry. At the end of the night the perfect thing, salty cold-ish, and nice and dry. It was the perfect thing.
Q3: If you could have a drink with anyone – who would it be, what would you pour, and why?
I am going to go and just make this blatantly Chicago; Nelson Algren. Distant, distant relative. I mean I don’t think we’re related other than the fact that there was one Algren who came over back in the 1830s or 40s and ended up in the Illinois area. But I think that would be an absolute blast. His favorite haunt was Bucktown, which I lived in up until very recently and I think he’s of an equal caliber of degeneracies as well. I would not pour wine, I think it would be a bottle of whisky and I don’t know that I would pour it I think it’d be swigs out of the bottle. It just seems appropriate
Q4: Can you walk us through your typical week?
Starts on Monday. Monday’s of late have been kind of a double. I’ll get here around 10 or 11 in the morning, do administrative work, work on editing the wine list, any new additions, take tastings appointments and then place my orders. We have a management team meeting at 3:00 and then the last couple of weeks I’ve been then working service Monday nights until 11 – midnight or so. Tuesday’s generally receive my orders so get here around 11 or noon. Put orders away, work service again, sit here until about midnight. Wednesday’s I have a department head meeting for Land and Sea Department in one of the conference rooms here in the hotel. So get here right around 10:15 – 10:30, work through service, work till about midnight. Thursday’s of late, fortunately, I have had, usually, off. It’s my one chance to totally step away during the workweek proper. Friday’s and Saturday’s I try and come in as late as I possibly can, 2:00 or 3:00, because I’m going to be here until 1, 2, 3 in the morning, kind of depending on flow of business and whether or not I need to help out in the Game Room as opposed to just my duties in Cherry Circle Room. Sunday’s as low key as possible and I try not to even think about this building whatsoever, in the best way of course.
Q5: Favorite food and wine pairing on the menu right now?
Absolutely. This is kind of a fun gimme having come over from Alinea and having to work with such complex flavors and amazing techniques and over the top presentations and having to really, really finesse and massage just the exact thing, getting to work with big cuts of meat again is kind of a really really exciting thing. So very intentionally just switched over most of our glass pours in about the last two weeks and put on a really really lovely Graves, so from Bordeaux in 2011 from Respide Médeville so, related to the Gonet-Médeville family out of Champagne as well. It’s a 2011 and it’s in a great spot. I have our bartenders decant every bottle when they open it to get it ready so it can take that time to get a little bit of fresh air under it and we are doing that with a carved table side lamb leg for two. So bone in lamb leg, cut it up table side, big hulking class of Cabernet forward Bordeaux and it’s nice to play it simple sometimes.