The Scene

Blow glass, raise a glass at new Richmond bar and art studio, The Glass Smith

Unique business is blowing up in northern McHenry County village

Brian Dunlavy at The Glass Smith in downtown Richmond uses wet newsprint to shape hot glass on Thursday, March 14, 2024.

As far as its owners have been able to determine, there is nothing like The Glass Smith in Richmond anywhere else in the world.

The new glass-blowing bar “springs out of my belief that everything is better with beer,” co-owner Brian Dunlavy said.

The Glass Smith offers patrons the opportunity to try their hand at either working with glass melted in a furnace or with a torch. They also can watch Dunlavy and other glass artists making new pieces while having a drink at the bar.

Dunlavy, along with business partner Jeff Popp, debuted the unique concept with a soft opening in January, having searched for a location in Richmond since 2018.

“We never would have done it anywhere besides Richmond,” Dunlavy said. “I looked at just about every building in town to buy or lease. When this place became available, it was a no-brainer” to become their location at 10217 N. Main St.

Dunlavy and Popp, both Richmond residents, met while Popp was working behind the bar at another Richmond restaurant six years ago. The two started a landscape design business together during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Dunlavy asked Popp if he’d be interested in his idea for a glass-blowing bar.

Popp started learning glass blowing himself about a year ago, on top of his 15-year career in the bar and restaurant industry.

“I know the bar industry,” Popp said, adding that Dunlavy “knows the other side of the fence.”

Jeff Popp, the bar smith at The Glass Smith in downtown Richmond, explains the art of glassmaking on Thursday, March 14, 2024.

Since The Glass Smith’s inception, they have brought in more artists, too.

Anna Woodlief, a Spring Grove native, moved back to the area from Colorado a year ago. A former professional ballerina, Woodlief has been doing torch work – shaping glass rods into art using a torch – for about three years.

She met Dunlavy at a New Year’s Eve party, where mutual friends introduced the two glass workers.

“We became instant friends,” Woodlief said, and she signed up to teach torch work and run their social media.

In August, Mike da Ponte and his wife were driving back from Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, when his wife noticed The Glass Smith sign on the building.

“We did a U-turn and met Brian” that night, da Ponte said.

He studied glass blowing and structure in college at Illinois State University and worked at a production shop in Cincinnati before being headhunted to teach glass blowing at New Trier High School in Winnetka, da Ponte said.

He is teaching glass blowing at The Glass Smith now, too.

Woodlief calls da Ponte “the wizard” of glassmaking.

The molten glass-blowing classes are not a drop-in situation but one where groups are asked to register online at Up to 11 people can participate in the two-hour class, which is offered Thursday night and Sunday afternoon.

Woodlief’s torch lampwork class is offered at two different times on Sundays, with a two-person limit.

Artists at The Glass Smith in Richmond created leprechaun hats as part of its contribution to the village's 2024 St. Patrick's Day Celebration.

On Friday nights, they encourage patrons to come watch “Blown Away,” the Netflix glass-blowing competition series.

“During our open hours, we are blowing glass one way or the other. Our intention is when you walk in the door, you are always seeing live art being made. It is something that most people have never seen live,” Dunlavy said.

For now, the establishment is only open Thursday through Sunday. The rest of the week, Dunlavy also is making glass – often the special request glass pieces customers have ordered or keeping up with the demand for barware.

The glassmakers have made all of the barware they serve beer and wine in. They’ve made glasses for either for white or red wine, as well as a standard pint for beer.

Barware that Brian Dunlavy and other artists at The Glass Smith have created are for sale at the new bar-and-glass-blowing business in downtown Richmond, seen here on Thursday, March 14, 2024.

In the warmer months, there is a patio for sipping those drinks and garage doors that will open out to Route 12 adjacent to the glass-working area. A bar, shaped out of fallen wood, separates that area from the glass-working area.

The two owners said they eventually hope to rent the space to other glassmakers and to host “live art” events on the property, where local artists can spend time creating and selling their work.

Richmond – both the village and its residents – has been “awesome” in securing the owners permits to operate and being open to the idea, Dunlavy said.

He suggested that people eating at any of the town’s restaurants stop by for the drink and glass experience before or after their reservations.

“It is something that the town hasn’t seen before,” Woodlief said. “We are very close with the community, and we have tons of regulars already. They are telling their family about it, giving us huge word of mouth.”

There is a plant shop in Fox Lake that wants to have The Glass Shop make planters and then hold a class on planting in them.

Additionally, a kids summer day camp has reserved the shop in June for a class.

Nippersink Middle School has The Glass Shop booked for a field trip in April.

“This new thing is all about the experience and ‘let’s go watch people blow glass,’” Dunlavy said.

Brian Dunlavy at The Glass Smith in downtown Richmond uses a torch to add the strip to a leprechaun hat on Thursday, March 14, 2024.
Janelle Walker

Janelle Walker

Originally from North Dakota, Janelle covered the suburbs and collar counties for nearly 20 years before taking a career break to work in content marketing. She is excited to be back in the newsroom.