Chicago has always been notorious for the cocktail highlife from the days of gangsters like Al Capone to the days of flapper dresses and speakeasies. The city has been steeped in cocktail culture but it hasn’t been until recently that the cocktail scene in Chicago has picked up its stride. There are wonderful bars and restaurants popping up everywhere throughout the city with great bartenders tending the bar and creating some extremely tasty beverages. We have homaged many bars in Chicago but we thought we would pick our favorite cocktails from our favorite bars and give them another whirl.
BLACKBIRD 619 W Randolph
Gourmet magazine named this Randolph Street hot spot from James Beard award-winning executive chef Paul Kahan one of the 50 best restaurants in the country in 2001. And for our money, it still is. Kahan serves contemporary American cuisine that relies on pristine produce and simple but thoughtful presentation. The menu’s printed daily to reflect the latest seasonal inspirations; dishes might include spring pea soup with bacon-cured hamachi or smoked suckling pig with sunchokes, hazelnuts and a hama hama oyster. Award-winning mixologist Lynn House is behind the bar mixing up sophisticated craft cocktails.
SEPIA 123 N Jefferson St # L-1
Calling itself a “modern speakeasy of sorts,” this Warehouse District dining destination offers nostalgia-tinged sophistication. Look for a custom-made tile floor with Art Nouveau patterns and a floor-to-ceiling wine rack–Sepia offers a 100-bottle, boutique wine list, with most selections less than $75. Chef Andrew Zimmerman, previously chef de cuisine at NoMi, creates a product-driven, seasonally focused contemporary American menu. There’s also a large lounge area serving cocktails made with fresh seasonal ingredients. In early June 2011, a private dining space for 80 will be unveiled for private corporate and social events. Look for grey bamboo flooring, an open layout and big, bold chandeliers with textured, metallic coverings on the wall.
THE VIOLET HOUR 1520 N Damen Ave
Speakeasies have a sexy mystique about them–and that’s exactly what you’ll find at this Wicker Park cocktail lounge from Terry Alexander and crew. There’s no sign except for a yellow lightbulb, and it’s hard to find the entrance in the wood paneled exterior. Once inside, you’ll spy a framed note requesting bargoers to refrain from cell phone use. But the decor is what’s really striking: cornflower-blue walls, white crown molding, crystal chandeliers and gorgeous hardwood floors give the space an elegant ballroom-like feel. Extremely high-backed blue leather chairs clustered around tiny white nightstands illuminated by candlelight add an Alice-in-Wonderland air. Now let’s get serious: The classic cocktails (gimlet, negroni, paloma) are superb. Bartenders make each with painstaking precision, using housemade simple syrups, bitters and twice-filtered ice cubes. But expect to wait a bit for each beverage as bartenders lovingly labor over their shakers–no doubt you’ll find it worth it.