A native of Central Illinois, Jeff Donahue has been at the forefront of Chicago’s ever-evolving beverage scene for over a decade. In 2005, Jeff found himself immersed in the study of wine and spirits under Bartender Adam Seger’s guidance at Nacional 27. From there, he designed Province’s opening beverage program, creating one of Chicago’s first global organic and biodynamic wine lists, as well as a cocktail program celebrating tradition with a focus on artisan spirits. In 2011, Jeff joined the opening team of Grant Achatz’s groundbreaking dual concepts, Next and the Aviary, working as a sommelier and spirits expert at both venues. In 2011, when the invitation to join Barrelhouse Flat’s opening team arose, he jumped at the opportunity to work alongside the Chicago all-star bar team. At this time, he also worked as a service captain at two Michelin starred restaurant Graham Elliot. During his time at Barrelhouse Flat, Jeff met his future business partner Wade McElroy, thus setting the stage for Leisure Activities. In 2013, alongside Heisler Hospitality, Jeff and Wade opened Sportsman’s Club, a neighborhood tavern that quickly became an industry darling. Leisure Activities’ relationship with Heisler Hospitality evolved and led to partnering in 2016 on Estereo, a Latin American and Caribbean-inspired cocktail bar.
In his current role, Jeff leads operations and management for Leisure Activities. The team’s portfolio includes Young American, a lively neighborhood hangout with sessionable & spirit-free drinks, and Ludlow Liquors in Avondale, a neighborhood tavern with a focus on stirred cocktails that are available by the ounce. Jeff was named Zagat’s ‘30 under 30’ in 2012 and was named Eater Chicago ‘2014 Bartender of the Year’ alongside Wade. He has been featured in publications such as GQ, Wine & Spirits, CS Magazine, and TimeOut Chicago.