Self-serve wine and more at Winnetka’s Trifecta
Patrick O'Neil pours a glass of wine at a self-serve wine machine in Winnetka in his new restaurant he just opened, Trifecta. I David Banks~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 28, 2012 8:35AM
Patrick O’Neil may be the Winnetka-Northfield Chamber of Commerce’s Businessman of the Year, but he has to share the credit with his wife, Mary. Through their 20 years of marriage, she has helped with all the restaurants he has opened, including their fine dining establishment, “Patrick and James,” which O’Neil built in Glencoe in 1992. The restaurant, which has since closed, was named for the couple’s two sons.
But Mary O’Neil was the driving force behind Trifecta Grill, which opened at 501 Chestnut St. in Winnetka, last month.
“It’s 95 percent her,” O’Neil said.
The décor of the restaurant is “industrial chic,” O’Neil said. “It’s not kid-friendly.” The main dining room has a bar along one wall, where the bottles and wine glasses glow in a blue light. The furnishings include wicker-seated bar stools and squat, metallic stools next to a black banquette where customers can talk or dine. The streamlined menu includes salads, pizza, seafood and sandwiches, with pasta being added soon, O’Neil said.
But what makes Trifecta unique is the “21 Club,” a room at the back restricted to people 21 and older, because it has self-serve wine dispensers.
The O’Neils discovered the concept at a wine bar in Winter Park, Fla., where they went to visit colleges with their son.
Mary O’Neil instantly fell in love with the idea.
“She went to town going wine-by-wine tasting it,” Patrick O’Neil said. “My son and I were just sitting down having a Coke.” But his wife recognized, “Here is one more aspect of the business we can hit.”
When they met with the vendor of the wine dispensing stations, they were told, “you fit the market profile perfectly,” O’Neil said. The market research shows 80 percent of the customers who like the wine stations are female.
“The first three nights we were open, it’s been 100 percent women,” O’Neil said.
The dispensing machines line the wall and contain 28 different bottles of wine, which range in price. The selection of wines will change over time. Customers place their wine glass below a spout, and choose whether they want a 1-ounce sample, a 3.5-ounce pour or six ounces. They pay for their purchase with prepaid cards they buy in the “21 Club.”
Bridget Tucek came to Trifecta Monday night to celebrate a friend’s birthday. That friend introduced her to the wine stations. Tucek, who lives in Wilmette, tried a 1-ounce sample of two different wines and liked the concept.
“It is super cool, I’m trying expensive wines for a fraction of the price,” Tucek said. “It’s just very novel.”
She appreciated that many of the wines are available in wine stores and supermarkets.
“They are achievable,” Tucek said. “I can have a little sip for $4.25 and then see if I want to invest $25 for a bottle” of that variety of wine.
Joe and Julie McConnell, who live within walking distance of Trifecta, were making a return visit to the “21 Club” Monday night.
“It’s the only place in Winnetka like this,” Joe McConnell said. But if the owners want to attract serious wine connoisseurs, “you’re going to need to double the number of wines.”
Unlike Tucek, McConnell thinks the restaurant should offer rarer, more expensive wines. That would give serious wine drinkers “a reason to come.”
Getting the wine dispensing machines at all took the Village Council’s cooperation. O’Neil had to request the village amend its ordinances to allow for self-serve wine machines.
O’Neil assured them that only customers over 21 would be allowed in the “21 Club” and the staff at both the main entrance and the room entrance would monitor who came in. Some diners who don’t want to drink at all may prefer the “21 Club.”
The day after O’Neil got the license, he opened the “21 Club” to the public. He admits it was a risk, installing the self-serve wine stations, before the village approved their use.
“We would be out $100,000 in machinery.”