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In Chicago, Hanukkah Now Has Its Own Pop-Up Bar Experience

Façade of Chicago's first and only Hanukkah-themed pop-up bar in Wrigleyville.

As swaths of red and green trim Chicago neighborhoods this holiday season, an unexpected pop of blue is lighting up the Wrigleyville neighborhood. And it's got nothing to do with the Cubs.

It's actually the 10,000-plus lights springing from 8 Crazy Nights — what appears to be the city's first Hanukkah-themed pop-up bar.

Kyle Bagley and Sam Stone, co-owners of the Graystone Tavern, decided to dress up the sports bar for the month of December. Neither owner is Jewish, but Bagley says they saw a void in the crowded pop-up scene. On top of that, they wanted to stand out.

The Graystone Tavern, in Chicago's Wrigleyville, opened the city's first and only Hanukkah-themed pop-up bar. There are plenty of Christmas-themed pop-ups every year, and the owners wanted to do something a little different.
/ Nolis Anderson for NPR
The Graystone Tavern, in Chicago's Wrigleyville, opened the city's first and only Hanukkah-themed pop-up bar. There are plenty of Christmas-themed pop-ups every year, and the owners wanted to do something a little different.

"We felt that there was a significant percentage of the population that was underserved with all the Christmas pop-ups that were going on," Bagley says. "So, it killed two birds with one stone if you will ... It was us being different, and doing something cool for the Jewish community."

They did some research into the holiday and Jewish culture — which might be most evident in their menu offerings. There's matzo ball soup, latkes and challah grilled cheese. Boozy jelly donuts give patrons the privilege of injecting their own jelly via syringe, quickly sell out.

You won't find bacon on the menu, Bagley says, but their kitchen isn't totally kosher. Yet, customers are welcome to bring in their own kosher food.

The bartenders are also stepping up their mixology for the occasion. Two of their most popular cocktails are the "Mensch Mule" — a strawberry twist on the ginger-vodka classic — and, on the sweeter side, "Mazel Tov" mixes gin with a blueberry and rosemary simple syrup.

Decking one wall, ugly Hanukkah sweaters feature cheeky sayings that draw on Jewish culture, (see "Challah at ya girl").

"When you're running a bar, you've got to find creative ways to get people in when the Cubs aren't in town," says Ryan McGovern, who calls himself a regular at the Graystone Tavern.

He was initially skeptical when heard about the plans Bagley and Stone had for a pop-up.

"When I was asking them what their pop-up was gonna be, and they told me they were gonna do a Hanukkuh pop-up, I was like ... that's risky," he says. "It seemed outside the box."

As a Catholic, McGovern is part of Chicago's largest single religious denomination — at least 10 times the size of the city's Jewish population.

Hanukkah and holiday-inspired messages at The Graystone Tavern, in Chicago's Wrigleyville.
/ Nolis Anderson for NPR
Hanukkah and holiday-inspired messages at The Graystone Tavern, in Chicago's Wrigleyville.

"But it was something that there obviously was a need for," he says. "This place has been packed every day."

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