Smile Politely

Crudo is a perfect spot for before dinner drinks

Crudo Wine Bar is a great addition to downtown Champaign that is serving wine, cocktails, and beer in an elevated atmosphere. The table service is a nice touch, and sitting in a cozy booth is a welcome change from the high-top tables and bar stools in most other bars nearby. They offer a happy hour every day from 4 to 7 p.m. with a rotating menu of wine specials. My companion and I stopped by before dinner one night for a glass of wine and one of their cheese boards to snack on to keep the hunger away before heading to a local dinner spot.

Crudo has the same ownership as nearby Nando Milano, so expect the same high-end finishes and décor. The feel is similar, with soft lighting and dark colors, but Crudo definitely feels cozier, as it is in a smaller space. When we arrived, a bartender greeted us cheerfully and immediately led us to our seats. Our waiter quickly brought water and told us about the happy hour specials. There were three wines being offered for a discounted price (all around $5), and I chose the Sauvignon blanc on special. My companion chose a non-alcoholic option that wasn’t on the happy hour menu — an imported bottled orange juice. I had heard good things about Crudo’s charcuterie, so I wanted to try one, even though it wasn’t a part of the special. They had two options: a cheese board, or a meat plate. We decided to pick the cheese board for the day. It included three cheeses with olives and fresh, house-made bread.

We were served in a reasonable amount of time and encouraged to wait a few minutes to let the cheese come to room temperature for the full flavor. Maybe I was just a bit hungry, but I always prefer to have food served ready-to-eat. The cheeses were a good mix of tangy goat cheese, salty Asiago, and creamy Brie. The warm, buttery bread was definitely the best part. I really wanted to like the cheese board, but I have to admit that the price ($16) was a little steep for the serving and variety of cheese options. Had it been a little more customizable or had a little more on the plate, I might have thought it was more worth the price. Although we liked the flavors, I don’t think I would order it again unless it also becomes a part of their happy hour special.

However, our drinks were tasty. My Sauvignon blanc was crisp and fruity, and the bottled orange juice was surprisingly good! Our waiter told us that the owner has the orange juice shipped from Italy because it’s one of his favorites. It is a great alternative if alcohol is not your thing. Hopefully this is something Crudo keeps in stock, but our waiter made it sound like it was a special item.

Later in the week, I headed back to Crudo to check out their late-night vibe. It was definitely busier and the bar was crowded. Most of the booths were full, but we were able to snag the last one. It looked like people after us were being seated in the lounge area in the back. The lounge is spacious and would seat a large crowd if needed. There are long couches and tables for drinks in the lounge, but it doesn’t feel very intimate since all other patrons have to walk through to reach the restrooms.

I decided to order wine by the glass, and asked the waiter for a recommendation. He was very knowledgeable, and recommended a rosé that I loved. Most of the wines on their regular menu were between $8 and $10, and there was a nice selection of options. At Crudo, you can also order cocktails and beer. The cocktail options were between $10 and $13, and had tasteful items like a Hemingway, Wrigley, and L’Avion. As for beer, there were only three options. Everything on the menu seems carefully curated, although somewhat limited.

It is clear that wine is the shining star at Crudo, and they do a great job of offering a place to enjoy a glass or two. Overall, the atmosphere and service is what makes this place unique. It’s a great spot to start or end your night with a sophisticated drink.

116 N Walnut St
M-Th 4 p.m. to midnight
F + Sa 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Su 4 to 10 p.m.

All photos by Katie Simpson

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