Frozen cocktails are on the rise this summer, and Chicago seems to be in the very center of the scene. Perhaps, as Paul McGee suggests, these frozen drinks are a reaction against fussy, expensive cocktails, the kind you need a password to access and a ten-minute wait to sip; perhaps they're just a fun way to cool down on a hot summer day.
Here are some of the best drinking destinations near major tourist attractions in Chicago. Some are full-on craft cocktail bars, while others might be slightly less obvious spots, like restaurants with great cocktail programs and a cozy spot to sit.
The Dawson's drink menu includes 10 cocktails, a 'daily dram' infused in the tall glass column downstairs, and a selection of nonalcoholic sodas created by in-house soda jerk Dalton Finney.
BroVo has teamed up with bartenders all over the country to make small batches of customized amari. In Chicago, bartenders Stephen Cole (of Barrelhouse Flat) and Mike Ryan (of Sable) are among the chosen few.
"Punch is a loan word from the Hindi language, from the word meaning five," explains Will Duncan, the beverage manager at Punch House. "Punch is a balance of five flavors; it always balances strong, weak, bitter, sour, and sweet." This is the first of many lessons in history and mixology to be learned at Punch House, Chicago's first punch-focused cocktail bar, owned by the team behind The Empty Bottle and Longman & Eagle.
At The Revel Room in Wicker Park, you'll find cocktails (including a Blood and Sand on tap), more than 30 canned beers, and a hidden back-room library.
"We went on all of these distillery tours, and we got tired of standing around at the end drinking warm spirits out of a plastic pill glass," explained Mark Lucas, co-owner of CH Distillery. That's why he and his partner Tremaine Atkinson have created a space where you can sip fresh spirits, distilled right behind the bar, the way they were meant to be tasted: in cocktails.
Each of these 5 Chicago wine shops has friendly staff, an atmosphere that isn't too intimidating, and not a whiff of snobbery.
Guests enter Three Dots through a back alley, climb down a dark staircase (with a wall full of skulls staring creepily) and into the tropical basement bar. Half of the menu is made up of classic tiki cocktails, the rest are the creations of Paul McGee, formerly of The Whistler.
Moscow Mules, Southsides, and other cocktails by the bottle from Charles Joly of The Aviary in Chicago.
"This bottle alone costs approximately $600 retail," explained mixer Allie Kim as she handed over a bottle of Maotai. The Chinese government has given it out as a diplomatic gift, while newscaster Dan Rather famously once said it was like drinking "liquid razor blades." At newly opened River North Chinese spot Lao 18, they've incorporated it (in very small doses) into their cocktail program.
Why open yet another craft cocktail lounge in a city filled with them? "I saw a gap in the drinking scene in Chicago," Benjamin Schiller explains. "There wasn't a place where you could go and get a craft cocktail, but if you wanted a vodka soda you'd be treated the exact same way."
At this new Lincoln Park diner, Brad Rubin is serving barrel-aged root beer, plus milkshakes, phosphates, and egg creams made with refurbished antique equipment.
Given Chicago's recent heat wave, perhaps it was only natural that I went running for the ice cream parlors. On the other hand, I sip malts in winter, spring, and fall, so the heat may just be an excuse for the calories. In any case, after searching high and low, north and south, here are five of the best milkshakes in the city of Chicago.
While Chicago's attention has been focused on the modernist cocktails at the Aviary, Grant Achatz's new temple of liquor excesses, something has been brewing next door. iNG, the younger sibling of chef/scientist Homaro Cantu's acclaimed moto, opened earlier this year, and they just rolled out their cocktail menu. As you would expect from a Cantu "production," normal cocktails aren't enough. These are "flavor tripping" cocktails that change from one drink to another while you are drinking them.
I visited the distillery to get my share of Sol the day after it came out. Flavored vodkas are almost never my thing, but Sol is different—rather than a mediocre vodka mixed with cheap artificial flavorings, the tea and herbs are distilled into the spirit—almost like a gin, but without juniper.
Last week found me drinking my way through the International Wine, Spirits and Beer Event, the younger, smaller cousin of the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago. Each year, this event brings the newest spirits to bartenders and media throughout the nation. It's a good opportunity to encounter brand new brands—especially those from smaller labels. It's also a chance to see what new horrors the liquor industry has conjured up.
The word "smoked" or "smoky" is tossed around a lot when talking about liquor; especially with bourbon and scotch. Here, it's meant literally. When I asked Debbi Peek, The Bristol's mixer, for the recipe, her email response began with "Using an industrial smoker..." I had to see more.
Barrel-aged cocktails are all the rage, so it would make sense that one of the hottest restaurants in America, Top-Chef winner and Food & Wine Best New Chef Stephanie Izard's Girl and the Goat, would be jumping on the bandwagon. But, with mixologist Ben Schiller at the helm, simply following a trend isn't enough. It has to be done right. We got a chance to help Schiller prepare one of the first batches of G&TG's barrel-aged Manhattans.
The 90's were awash in vodka, filled with Cosmopolitans, Metropolitans, and fruity-stuff-from-the-back-bar-tinis, and while the trend was fun at first, most of us outgrew it. I haven't ordered a vodka cocktail in years, and many great cocktail spots only grudgingly tack them onto the end of their menus. Lokal is looking to change all that with a sophisticated list of vodka drinks and a great selection of vodkas for sipping.
Maude's has managed the difficult feat of creating a space that is both abuzz with raucous happy-hour activity and intimate at the same time, while serving up a menu of drinks that will make any cocktail lover drool.
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