Mixologists in Chicago had a big hand in the craft cocktail movement, a trend so strong that even neighborhood bars specializing in nothing more than draft beers have introduced a well-made drink or two. Meticulously made, locally sourced, intricate cocktails show no signs of slowing down here — in fact, new places dedicated to drinking well continue to open and flourish around the city. Here’s a look at five relatively new spots to belly up to the bar for a bespoke drink this fall:
This River North restaurant is known just as much for its innovative seasonal drinks as it is for its small-plates American menu. Since the spot opened earlier this year, there’s been a lot of buzz around two tipples in particular: Bill Brasky, which is scotch, bourbon rye, moonshine and orange bitters mixed surprisingly well; and Brandy & Cigars, a brandy cocktail served inside an upside-down snifter filled with Honduran Robusto cigar smoke. Other playfully named cocktails, like Little Miss Dynamite (vodka, tarragon, pink grapefruit liqueur, vanilla liqueur, lemon and syrup), complement a roster of classics at the cozy, perennially packed place.
Inside the recently opened and oh-so-hip Soho House Chicago in the West Loop, The Allis feels (and functions) much more like a posh clubby hangout (exposed brick walls, reclaimed wood and oversized crystal chandeliers) than a first-floor lobby lounge. Named after the 1907 building’s original owners, the bar serves excellent craft cocktails alongside lighter bites and booze. Simple recipes let the flavors shine through. The Eastern Standard, for instance, wonderfully combines premium vodka or gin, lime, sugar, cucumber and mint; the Bourbon Iced Tea is bourbon, housemade iced tea, lemon and sugar — sweet, simple, exact.
While this sophisticated River North spot has four levels combining a restaurant, lounge and rooftop garden, you’ll want to head straight to the dark and moody ground-floor bar to start. That’s where you’ll find the Golden Filigree, a rendition of milk punch available on tap that combines cognac, rum, bourbon and milk whey. The gilded second-floor restaurant serves an entirely different list of 20-plus cocktails, one more complex than the next. The menu details the ingredients in each selection and offers a taste description that helps imbibers decipher which one to order. The Flag Assembly is made with pisco, mescal, orgeat syrup, citrus and mole bitters and is described with three tempting words: smoke, herbal, chocolate.
The Pump Room is far from new. It originally opened in 1938 and was a hot spot for celebrities (Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor) passing through the city. In the years since, it’s been renovated, closed and now reimagined. It reopened in 2011 as part of Public Chicago hotel. Last October marked the spot’s 75th anniversary and it celebrated with a whole new craft cocktail menu based on drinks of the 1930s that is still being updated. The Pump Room Daisy, considered one of the early versions of the Cosmopolitan, combines brandy, lemon juice, prosecco and yellow chartreuse. The Chicago Fizz — great name, no? — shakes up port, rum, lemon juice and egg white for a bubbly drink that goes down much too easy.
It may be located in Boystown, but this new bar appeals to far more than just the LGBT crowd. For starters, connoisseurs of brown liquor will enjoy the excellent house rye-millet blend whiskey, found not only in the drinks but also infused into the honey butter and the mustard served on charcuterie plates. Secondly, the craft cocktails feature lots of natural ingredients (locally foraged herbs are found in The Trust Whiskey Smash). The space itself is warm and welcoming with loads of reclaimed wood and a relaxed vibe — it’s no surprise that the house whiskey is made with liquor from a nearby distillery.