J9: The Tale of a Wine Bar


by Kathy Jordan

“There were theaters, bars, and restaurants. We needed a wine bar,” said Sonya Mlodzek when asked what led her to open the J9 Wine Bar.
Something Sonya and her late sister had talked about doing for years, J9 will celebrate its 5th anniversary in October 2021.

Not a formally trained sommelier at the time—”after I opened the bar, I got training and certification”—Mlodzek began J9 in a building bought by her step-father in 1974 and inherited by her after his death. J9 is in honor of her late sister’s name, Jeanine.

Pre-Covid, business had been good at the wine bar. The size of groups varied.

“50% is twos or 3-4, There might be a pair of girlfriends, or a date night, an engagement, even a marriage celebration that brings people to J9,” said Mlodzek. “The Wine Bar hosted parties and charity events. At times we even closed the bar for a group as large as 150 people.” 

The Pandemic brought changes. The Wine Bar closed for a while, then opened on Friday evenings—windows open, blankets and space heaters provided. Customers also could purchase a case of wine to pick up, or two bottles for home use. “Any time the city gave us breathing room we were more than happy to take advantage,” said Mlodjek.

How are wines chosen? “That’s the most fun part of the job,” said Mlodjek. “We taste a lot, looking for a region or a particular country. It’s done by me along with the staff.”

And how do the customers choose? “If they ask for help, we ask them questions—for example, crisp white or rich red? Smooth or chunky tannins? Then we choose one or two wines for them to taste.”

Wine is not the only beverage to be had at J9. There are 50 wines by the glass and the bottled list is growing. But there also are seven beers to sample, as well as a variety of cocktails that include craft drinks made in-house. There also is a small retail display from which customers can choose bottles for home use. 
The next step will be an expansion one door south. 

“It will be open in June,” Mlodjek said, “with 80 seats for social distancing. We’re excited that it’s coming to fruition. It will hold wine bar events, birthday and bridal parties, small weddings and receptions. I am on pins and needles about the opening. It’s been a year and a half in the making.”

Mlodnek added, “The neighborhood has been a wonderful embracer of the wine bar.”

J9 Wine Bar is at 1961 N. Halsted, 312-982-2488. Hours are Monday 4-9 p.m.; Tuesday 4-10 p.m.; Wednesday and Thursday 4-11 p.m.; Friday 3 p.m.-midnight; Saturday, 2 p.m. to midnight; Sunday 1 to 9 p.m.