Booze Muse

The art and craft of liquid inspiration

Tardy Tropicalia: Scofflaw’s Summer Cocktail Menu is Worth the Wait

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The Sleeper

The Sleeper

By Sara Tenenbaum

If you asked any of the employees at Scofflaw why they were still handing you a spring drink menu a week into July, they explained that the gin joint’s newest set of signature drinks were still being crafted. They’re putting a lot of thought into this one, they told you, and you nodded and accepted the explanation because even if your cocktail felt a little out of season, it’s still one of the best in town. Despite its youth and its odd location, Scofflaw’s superior drinks and reasonable prices have made it one of the most popular and lauded bars in the city. This spring, Chicago magazine deservedly called it the best bar in Chicago, a little bit of extra pressure to keep churning out delicious and innovative cocktails with each season change. Perhaps that’s why it took a little longer to get a summer menu out there. The good news: it’s done, it’s out there, and it’s delicious.

The summer menu skews tropical, cold and refreshing, and is at its best when using the holy trinity of summer spirits: gin, rum and tequila. The Sleeper is probably the most refreshing drink on this menu, a bright concoction of gin, Escorial (a dry German herbal liqueur), honeydew, lime and orange bitters, chilled with big blocks of cucumber ice. Honeydew is not my favorite melon but it sings when allowed to play with gin, somehow boosting and mellowing the juniper notes simultaneously. Also deliciously refreshing is Alfonso, a neon orange mixture of gin, mango, lime, Peychaud’s bitters and berries. Served over heaps of crushed ice, it’s bright and fruity without even edging toward overly sweet. The New Toy is essentially an updated margarita but it is a spectacular update; instead of simple syrup they use Orgeat (an almond syrup) and Mole bitters, and the salt is in the drink instead of rimming the glass. The bite of lime and tequila is unmistakably margarita, and the twist on sweetness and salt has all the charm and sparkle of, well, a new toy. Read the rest of this entry »

How to Hit a Homerun: The best of Wrigleyville bars

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Best bar for elbow room and a dance floor

Casey Moran’s
This spacious bar is a favorite for birthday parties and the like, channeling a slightly more upscale vibe with its baroque/modern interior and bathroom attendants. Calmer and quieter than elsewhere, it’s easier to actually strike up a conversation here. Still, on the dance floor the music is blasting, and the DJ throws in some classic dance tunes along with the Top 40 hits, so if you’re craving a bit of Michael Jackson along with your Ke$ha, this is the place.
3660 North Clark, (773)755-4444

Best bar if you’re experiencing Chad/Trixie overload

The Gingerman Tavern
If you can’t get with the Wrigleyville scene, or have simply had enough, The Gingerman is the place for you. Right next to Metro, The Gingerman attracts an older, alternative/punk crowd that doesn’t feel emasculated drinking the cider they serve on tap. The television is sports-free and the bar is cash-only, but if you can roll with the punches, you might meet a cutie in a black hoodie and glasses.
3740 North Clark, (773)549-2050 Read the rest of this entry »

Fire in the Sky: Chicago’s newest hotspots peer down from above

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By Laura Hawbakerroof_exterior

Home to two of the tallest buildings in America, Chicago is a skyward city. Like pigeons to lampposts, Chicagoans take to rooftops when summer comes around, as if our proximity to the sky will somehow enable us to glimpse the stars through that hazy orange veil of light pollution.

This past weekend, a few friends and I assailed the summits of the Wit and the Trump to see if two brand-spankin’-new rooftop bars measure up to the height and hype. Read the rest of this entry »

Infusing the Classics: Turning the fruits of summer into all-season savors

Bars of Summer, Spirits Just Sound Happy, Don't They?, The Fine Art of Mixology No Comments »

By Jonathan Silversteinim003665

Somewhere along the line, I discovered that I had both a talent for mixing cocktails and a tragically low tolerance for alcohol. After a few regrettable experiments, which I cannot remember but my former friends cannot forget, I decided to devote myself to the pursuit of quality over quantity.

The big obstacle I kept running into was the poor state of commercially available liqueurs and flavoring agents. Most of them are packed with artificial flavors and high fructose corn syrup, making them unfit for anything other than a Trixie’s candy martini, the kind garnished with lollipops and washed down with Diet Coke.

It turns out that it is ridiculously easy to infuse booze with flavors. Read the rest of this entry »

Enter the Laboratory: Simone’s in Pilsen

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simoneslabEntering Simone’s is likely to induce memories of walking through a summertime carnival funhouse. Gazing at a massive bar fashioned out of Fresnel lenses, bowling-alley remnants and pinball machines that have long since been forgotten can be disorienting at first, but still intriguing enough to keep wandering through to see what lies ahead in the next section.

When it came to designing Simone’s, which opened in Pilsen in February, the bar’s owners Russ and Desiree Grant and Michael Noone paired up with a design team from Salvage One to create a one-of-a-kind neighborhood bar. “We tried to repurpose items,” says Desiree Grant. “The whole idea of reusing and reducing, that was important to us. We knew that we did not want to bring a North Side-looking place down here; we wanted to respect the vibrancy of the community and the fact that it is an artist community. We wanted to celebrate that.” Read the rest of this entry »

Nighty Night: Inside the new resto-bar from the owners of Lula Cafe

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nightwood_001When Jason Hammel describes his experience of opening Nightwood in Pilsen, he draws similarities to being the new kid in town. “It’s a process to get introduced to a neighborhood and the people here,” he says. “To be a newcomer is not easy, it’s like the first day of school for us.” Yet in terms of popularity, this summer has proven that Nightwood is poised to become one of the neighborhood’s favorite upscale haunts.

The restaurant/bar has been garnering attention since its opening in late May, which is no surprise considering that it is the latest venture for Hammel and his wife Amalea Tshilds, the duo behind Logan Square’s Lula Café. They teamed up with Matt Eisler—owner of Empire Liquors, Bar Deville and Angels and Kings—and Kevin Heisner to create the minimalist space within Pilsen’s gallery district. “We had been looking here for a while; I think that it is a unique neighborhood,” Hammel says. “There are a lot of artists that live here, a lot of young people that are doing creative things. There is a geographic otherness in the same sense that Logan Square feels cut off from the rest of Chicago and I like that about it.” Read the rest of this entry »

Two Bars, One Summer: Logan Square a cosmic milkshake

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dsc00585Two bars, nestled directly across the street from one another at the intersection of Milwaukee and Fullerton in Logan Square, offer quick indications of clientele even from just a cursory glance outside—The Whistler, on the north, is glittered with an assortment of fixed-gears, and the Two Way Lounge, on the south, rattles and rumbles with the sound of gathered motorcycles. Thirty feet across from one another and a whole world in between.

You know The Whistler. You know the place. The new art hangout, just opened last year, a joint easily tagged with a hipster label though you most likely wouldn’t hear that term thrown around inside. In summer, the bar shines. Not much bigger than your father’s basement, the inside of the tavern gives way to a larger outdoor smoking patio in back—though that’s not much bigger than your father’s backyard, either. Read the rest of this entry »

Our Small World: Bucktown’s 6 Degrees bring us together

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Hanging out and catching up with old friends while meeting new ones is part of what summer is all about. The theme and atmosphere at 6 Degrees bar in Bucktown cater to that very concept.

Conversation and music bellow from its open doors and, inside, black-and-white framed photos line the exposed brick walls. The pictures are owner and Springfield native Ann Keefner’s way of bringing people together and showing how everyone is connected.

Keefner originally wanted to name the bar Small World until one of her friends suggested 6 Degrees. “It was like hearing ‘Blackjack,'” she says. “That was it.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Green Party: Eco-cocktailing comes to life

Bars of Summer, Tips and Trends No Comments »

Green: it’s the color of money, the characterization of envy and, in today’s world, a double-edged status symbol that’s “changing the world”—for those who can afford it. Eco-culture is transforming grocery stores, clothing boutiques, car dealerships and now your local neighborhood tap. It’s a phenomenon I discovered on a recent pub crawl to three “green” establishments offering organic bar specials that included locally grown, pesticide-free and naturally cultivated wines, ales, vodkas, gins and house-infused flavors.

The first destination was the vegan-friendly Heartland Café in Rogers Park (7000 North Glenwood). Billing itself as “The Enterprise,” this commercial commune could have its own zip code, as it’s comprised of the café, a general store, studio theater, live radio show and our current stomping ground, The Buffalo Bar. The first thing my sidekick and I noticed, besides the not-so-environmentally conscious buffalo head giving us the evil eye, was the organic wine-tasting (Fridays from 7pm-9pm) and the absence of people enjoying it. Taking a seat at the bar, it became even more clear that we were the only ones ordering organic—and the taste test of Samuel Smith’s organic ale and an eco-friendly Cabernet Sauvignon proved why. The beer was so watered-down, it could have been from a Canadian spring. And, after the bartender mistakenly gave us the regular wine first, the comparison easily awarded the original the winner.

Our impression of organic ale and wine polluted, the green started growing on us once we arrived at our next stop, Wrigleyville’s Uncommon Ground (3800 North Clark), whose motto, “Live it Green,” was matched by a forest-friendly interior of rich earth tones and leafy paper lanterns. The cocktails served here are clean and sulfite-free (a bonus for my allergic cohort) thanks to Uncommon Ground’s almost exclusive use of Rain Vodka distilled from organic white corn grown on local Illinois farms.

Not only are the drinks palatable but—in the nature of green ideology—they pay it forward, too. The “Tree-tini” is a seasonally variable concoction that plants a tree each time it’s ordered—to date, over 2,000 trees have been committed to be planted in monsoon-devastated Tamil Nadu, India. And the “Rescue Me grilled pineapple greyhound” is a sweet citrus number that makes a donation to P.A.W.S. Chicago each time it’s ordered. So even with your hangover, you’ll at least feel good about yourself.

Although the do-good nature left a sweet taste in my mouth, it had me wondering—is this latest drinking trend a short-lived fad the way of Carrie Bradshaw’s cosmo, or do people consciously drink green in a bid to “save the earth”?

“Sometimes, I really don’t think people understand what organic is,” says Andre, former ecology-club president, and currently our bartender at the most popular of eco-bars, Butterfly Social Club (722 West Grand). “They just think it’s special.”

The newly revamped space is blatantly more modern with clean, white walls that leave room for the colorful drinks he serves up from a back wall littered with organic labels of every variety. Our favorites: the excellent Ginger Mojito (made of organic fair-trade Papagayo spiced rum) and Juniper Green Gin ‘n’ Juice, which goes down smooth, more like the latter part of the equation.

As Andre pointed out, it may be due to talking heads like Oprah that the green thing is sweeping the country—but for those honestly concerned with their health and that of the planet, a night of organic drinking is the perfect way to say cheers to Mother Nature. (Selena Fragassi)

To Slushie or Not: Old Oak and the making of a summer bar (and winter too)

Bars of Summer, News and Dish No Comments »

“We’re toying with something and I don’t even know if I should say it,” says Old Oak Tap co-owner Chris Ongkiko, clearly torn on the issue. “We’ve got a little slushie machine that we bought, and we’re debating, ’cause that could be funny, or it could go bad. It could just be cheesy. But with a big patio, if it’s eighty degrees outside, it’s gorgeous in the city, who knows? Maybe you throw some vodka in a slushie drink.”

Perhaps for some bar owners the decision of whether or not to include a slushie machine comes straight from the gut, too minor of a detail to merit any serious thought. But that’s not how Chris Ongkiko has conceived and built the almost-completed Old Oak Tap (2109 West Chicago) with his wife Susan and Darkroom owner Amy Teri. The way the man talks, it would be appear every decision and every meticulous detail undergoes a pros-versus-cons analysis.

“You could go two different directions,” says Ongkiko, who also co-owns The Continental with his wife, as he still considers the slushie dilemma. “You could say, let’s just do white trash and we’re just gonna do orange, cherry and watermelon, because that’s total kitsch. Or you go like passion fruit or mango or something, but then you walk a fine line. It could go bad.”

Today, the bar feels a bit dusty and there’s still a mirror or two to be hung, but for the most part, it’s done, the almost-finished product of “fifty or so redesigns, on paper and in our heads.” Sometime in August, the general public will be welcomed into the new and clean bi-level bar and restaurant, featuring a 1,500-square-foot patio, a modern yet rustic-looking interior with no walls (to give the room a more “open feel”), natural olive-green tones to complement the summer months and oak bar counters (as well as two fireplaces) to create a comfortable feel in the wintertime. And of course, the bar offers twelve drafts and thirty-forty bottles of beer (from PBR to top-of-the-line Belgian, Brazillian and Costa Rican brews), ten or so choices for wine and, for the first time in Ongkiko’s business history, food.

“Knowing the neighborhood we knew there was a need for just decent, really good upscale bar food,” he says. “Today we’ll go out for lunch and say, ‘OK, what do you want to eat? Subway? Freaking McDonalds? You know, there’s a couple little places but it’s very basic bar food, pretty straightforward bar food. Not knocking them, but it’s nothing earth-shattering and nothing that you would necessarily want to eat repeatedly.”

Having no prior experience with food, the owners hired former Mas executive chef John Manion to oversee the menu, which Ongkiko describes as mostly sandwiches and salads in the $6-$10 price range.

“I’m trying to do things a little bit healthier,” he says, mentioning that he wants to be able to feed his daughter without worrying about the fat content. “A little fresher ingredients, as opposed to some bars, ‘Oh, here’s a bunch of chicken wings. Let’s throw them in a deep fryer.’ Or ‘Here’s a bunch a French fries off the back of a Sysco truck.'”

The need for upscale food reflects what Ongkiko believes is his target clientele: young urban professional thirtysomethings, a little more established than the hipster crowd that frequents The Continental.

“Here I can be like ‘Hey, how’s your kid doing? You gotta wake up tomorrow? Oh I gotta wake up tomorrow.’ People at our other places might be like, ‘Oh, I gotta wake up at noon tomorrow. I got band practice at noon, I got a busy day.’ That’s great, but I’m only gonna sleep three hours, and feed my kid, walk the dog and go to work. [Opening Old Oak] is probably a reflection a little bit of where we are in life as well.”

Since he expects the crowd at Old Oak to be more diverse, it complicates the strategy when it comes to what Ongkiko calls the “most important aspect to a bar”: what music to play.

“I think we’re going to have a lot of our friends, the artists, the musicians, the tattooed hipsters, and I think we’re gonna have the mom and dad with the 1-year old coming in, so the music’s gotta reflect that,” he says. “You can’t have Motorhead or some whiny indie band that’s pining for their lost love. It’ll be a pretty diverse mix, everything from old school hip-hop like De La Soul to old R&B and soul like Stevie Wonder and Curtis Mayfield.”

Between the food, drinks, music, the interior and exterior design, the Old Oak owners have just about everything figured out. Make sure to drop by in a couple weeks to cast your vote on that damn slushie machine. (Andy Seifert)