Bill Wilson spent more than three decades in the U.S. Army, starting with three years in the infantry. It's not the usual training for a high-end, high-concept restaurant like Opus Prime Steakhouse.
Approaching retirement as a colonel, when Wilson came across an investment opportunity for a restaurant, he initially was dubious. The only food industry background he had was stocking the shelves at his grandfather's grocery store — and that was before high school.
Nonplussed, he joined the group that opened Nikz at the Top in Founders Tower, which he eventually operated until it closed in March 2007. That experience, which had many highs, ended unceremoniously in a dispute with the landlord over asbestos stirred by construction. As a result, he wasn't sure he wanted to continue in the industry. But his son Billy had shown acumen and a growing interest in wine, so forward they went and took over the space at 800 W Memorial Road, which had failed as both Cowboy Bob's and Emerson Biggin's.
Four years later, father and son own and operate Opus — a spectacularly set restaurant in the tradition of Chicago's famous chop houses.
Through the first set of enormous doors, you enter a dramatic entryway large enough to house Tyrannosaurus Rex, though he'd better be dressed for dinner. As the interior materializes through the next set of doors, you half expect the setting to turn from black-and-white to color. To your right, in a violet-tinged wine cellar, huge elegant half-moon fixtures hang from a black, industrial ceiling to give warm light to rich mahogany woodwork mixed with ornate wrought iron and red brick. Perched on a massive throne overlooking the dining room is the king of all wine cellars — encased in glass, climate-controlled, backlit in blue and large enough to store a kayak or four.
Tables are topped with black linens, while booths are surrounded by tall mahogany topped with etched glass, creating an intimate space within an expansive dining room.
The bar also is backlit in blue and faces a bank of small dining tables that share a common mahogany facade.
Private dining areas flank the building, and a large, lush cigar room is just off the bar.
The menu is driven by prime beef; everything on it is there to kneel before and give glory to almighty steak. It includes prime cuts plus Kobe with several options to match with seafood.
But if beef brings the thunder, wine serves the lightning. More than 1,100 wines make their home in Opus, starting with the sublime and ascending to the ridiculous. The selection is impressive enough to draw the adulation of Wine Spectator Magazine every year dating to 2000. The list is large enough that it has to be stored in a spiral binder, with plans to convert to iPad soon. This is a wine geek's nirvana.
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