Ward Eight: Speakeasy on Howard Street

It’s not easy to find a comfortable North Shore bar with craft cocktails, delicious bites and warm and attentive proprietors.

Put the hip, but still accessible, Ward Eight on your list of must-visits. Just barely clinging to Evanston, the clientele is a mix of Rogers Park and Evanston neighbors and industry professionals, with nary a cougar in sight. This is not a see and be seen bar, but a place to feel a part of a community of people who truly care about food and drink.

Wet Your Whistle

I really want to give props to the cocktails, which are beautifully made and balanced. My favorite? The Corpse Reviver #2 ($10, pictured above), circa 1930, a sprightly, citrusy blend of Gin #11, Curacao, fresh lemon juice, Lillet Blanc and Absinthe. Anne, a delightful presence in the bar, shared the scandalous back story of absinthe with our group. FYI: it’s safe to drink and won’t lead to hallucinations!

dining-ward-8-drink-2Whiskey drinkers will appreciate the Toronto ($10), circa 1948, which combines High West Rye, Fernet Branca and Angostura bitters in a beautifully proportioned drink. Our resident vodka fan went for the Moscow Mule ($10), circa 1941, made with Pure Blue Vodka, fresh lime juice, Fever Tree Ginger Ale and bitters. Very refreshing.

We also loved that they went off menu for one of our guests, who professed a love of both bubbly and bitter. For her, they crafted an off-menu Happy Mistake ($10), Campari, vermouth and prosecco uniting to provide exactly what the doctor ordered.

Get In My Belly!

And the food? The perfect accompaniment to adult cocktails. Snacks like Fall Pickles ($4), yummy Za’atar-Spiced Marcona Almonds ($4) and Marinated Olives ($5) bring the salty; but if you’re there to really eat (and you should be!), you’ll want to start with the Butternut Squash Soup ($7), warmly spiced and velvety smooth, topped with a spiced pecan cream. The Queso de Cabra ($7), goat cheese mixed with tomato and spices and served with crostini, was pleasant but not nearly as calorie-worthy as the rest of the meal.

An Artisan Cheese or Charcuterie Platter ($15) is an easy partner for your beer or wine, but I’m a big fan of the sandwiches. I’m still dreaming of the Fig and Farmer’s Cheese Sandwich ($10), Red Hen Tuscan bread slathered with housemade fig preserves, farmer’s cheese, arugula and, for an additional $2, salty and luscious La Quercia prosciutto (do it!). Griddled all hot and buttery, this one is sandwich perfection.

We also enjoyed the Ward Eight Sandwich ($14), pulled Amish chicken tossed in bourbon BBQ sauce, layered with celeriac remoulade and pickled jalapenos on Red Hen marble rye. The Ham and Cheese ($12) was tasty, but basically just a really good ham and cheese. All sandwiches were served (with fresh potato chips and more of those fall pickles) on wooden boards, a smart (and historically accurate) touch.

Two desserts are available: a super dense, dark Chocolate Torte ($7) on a pecan crust topped with brandied fruit, and a Traditional Flan ($6) flavored with Licor 43, a citrusy Spanish liqueur. The flan, though delicious, did not have the “traditional” texture we expected; it was less custardy and more like cheesecake in consistency.

The History Channel

And who brought this killer concept to Evanston? Ward Eight is owned and operated by husband-wife team Cody Modeer and Anne Carlson, who met when both worked at Andersonville’s late, lamented In Fine Spirits (Cody was head bartender and Anne was the manager). Thanks to a lead from FEW Spirits Distillery owner Paul Hletko, they worked with Evanston’s Economic Development Division and Eighth Ward Alderman Anne Rainey to create the space in a city-owned, three-story building in the city’s southern TIF district. Modeer and Carlson live upstairs with their adorable daughter, so it’s really a throwback to the old mom-and-pop establishment, albeit much, much hipper.

dining-ward-8-ownersThere’s a commitment to both craft and history here that I haven’t seen elsewhere. The provenance of each cocktail is detailed on the menu. Modeer is clearly an ardent student of mixology; the bar’s moniker is a reference not only to its Evanston political ward, but also a drink that dates back to the early twentieth century, composed of rye, fresh orange and lemon juice, and grenadine. Even the tables and the long bar are steeped in history, made of reclaimed wood from old church pews.

Keep in mind that this joint is not large; you might want to stop by during the week because it’s already jammed on weekends. It’s just a few short blocks from the Howard Street El and there’s plenty of parking.

So happy to welcome these worthy newcomers to the North Shore; glad that they landed on the north side of Howard Street so that we can claim them as our own. We’ll be back, and often.


4 out of 5 stars (A-)


Ward Eight
629 West Howard Street
(773) 369-4911

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