116 N Walnut in Downtown Champaign has undergone more changes over the past seven years than, perhaps, most any other address in the area.
Once a staple for audiophiles and bibliophiles as Old Main Book Shoppe, it was completely gutted and transformed into Figure One in 2011, an experimental art gallery run by the UI School of Art + Design. That lasted for five years, which I assume was the length of the lease, and was then left empty until an unassuming sign cropped up in the window earlier this year.
Crudo is now officially open at 4 p.m. daily — until 2:00 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, 12:00 a.m. on Monday through Thursday, and 10:00 p.m. on Sunday.
I stopped in for drinks on Saturday, its soft opening, and then last night as well. It's really a nice space, and the cocktails are on point. Here's the Manhattan I ordered. The glass is straight up perfect and has the weight of a bowling ball. Fantastic.
The wine is the star of the show, and that is the kicker. It's not just a bar, it's a retail wine shop, which is a welcomed addition to a small business district like Downtown Champaign.
Dario Vullo, the owner of the joint, alongside his brother Alessio, also own and operate Nando Milano just down the street on Taylor and Neil. They assured me, their goal is to be a great lounge for engagement, but also a great place to find tremendous wines at really solid prices. I took home a bottle of Desafio Crianza 2008, which retails at $32.00 but that I paid $14.00. I am no wine snob, so as long as it isn't corked, I am sure I will be pleased.
The space is nice, with a simple layout of booths alongside a narrow path to a back room that has more seating for bigger, larger groups. Its layout is exactly as you'd expect.
According to both Vullos, next week, they will debut the food items that will accompany the bar portion: charcuterie, cheeses, olives, breads, and macarons for dessert.
That I am impressed comes as no surprise. Nando Milano is one of the better restaurants to have opened its doors in Champaign-Urbana in years. Dario and Alessio take great care in what they do, and how they present, and that is apparent once again with Crudo.
Highly recommended for a place to have a snazzy night out on the town. An excellent juxtaposition to Esquire and Blind Pig next door to the right and left, both of which are arguably the best bars in Champaign County. They are in the discussion and on a shortlist, anyhow, that's for sure.
Welcome to the neighborhood, Crudo.