Booze Muse

The art and craft of liquid inspiration

Bar-side Manner: Talking with Gemini Bistro’s Pauly Graves

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Pauly Graves of Gemini Bistro, courtesy Neil Burger

Pauly Graves of Gemini Bistro, courtesy Neil Burger

By Dennis Lee

Gemini Bistro in Lincoln Park recently celebrated its fifth year in business. I stopped by just after their anniversary to chat with head bartender Pauly Graves, who’s been with Gemini Bistro since opening day. Pauly has an easygoing demeanor, but one that also speaks to his seventeen-year experience behind the bar. He greets his customers like family, but also maintains his professional posture, making sure their experience is as comforting as the food and drinks he serves. I watched him serve drinks with a deft hand and a generous pour as he reflected on his five years at Gemini Bistro.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in terms of what you do now?
Reading people and giving them what they need, other than booze in a glass. The guy who wants to sit here, read his book, and not be bothered? I’m great at that. He doesn’t even know I’m there. The woman who just lost her husband and wants to talk; I got that in my wheelhouse too, no problem. I like to give more of a… bedside manner. I’m used to the Chicago drinker now. I know what they want. Everyone’s first words when they look at this menu, “Is it sweet, is it sweet, is it sweet?” Read the rest of this entry »

Amazon.Cocktail: Cedilla puts Açaí into Cachaça for an extra-trendy Brazilian liqueur

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By Ernest Barteldes

A decade or so ago, the açaí berry was starting to get a lot of attention in Brazil, where many began consuming its pulp in a bowl mixed with granola or other ingredients to benefit from its antioxidant and energetic properties.

Word spread quickly, and soon the fruit—which is taken from palm trees that grow natively in the Amazon region—made its way to the United States market. The first company to exploit it stateside was Sambazon, an American company that specializes in exotic tropical fruit. Açaí has come to be regarded as a “super fruit” that is now featured in dozens of products, going from fruit smoothies to dietary supplements, conditioners and açaí-infused vodkas by Absolut and VeeV—the latter of which is used to make the “Veev a Loca” martini at the Signature Room on Michigan Avenue. Read the rest of this entry »

Sipping to the Beat: Drinkify Pairs Tunes with Drinks

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Can’t figure out what to drink while listening to music on Spotify? There’s a website for that. It’s called Drinkify.

Drinkify.org was “created in twenty-four boozy hours ” by Hannah Donovan, Lindsay Eyink and Matthew Ogle. They all met each other through music jobs at Last.fm and iTunes. At the event Music Hack Day in Boston they came up with the idea of combining music and alcohol— perhaps sparked by Donovan’s epic hangover from the night before.

Drinkify attempts to pair whatever song you’re playing with the perfect cocktail recipe. Just type in the artist, song or band, hit the “What should I drink?” and bam: Cocktail recipe. Read the rest of this entry »

411: The Minimal Mixology

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When asked whether he considers himself a bartender or a mixologist, Peter Gugni answers with a grin and a nod, “I’m a bartender. I take care of my bar.” Gugni is also the general manager of The Bedford. Once the Home Bank & Trust, the basement of 1612 West Division is now a late-night kitchen and bar. Gugni designed the bar to be “built for speed,” he explains. “I wanted to make it so you don’t have to wait fifteen minutes for a drink.” Taking a minimalist approach when creating the original cocktail list with more than a dozen options, Gugni used “the fewest ingredients—but with the most flavor.” Such strategizing allows bartenders to carefully create beverages without having to cut corners to meet a busy crowd’s requests. Yet an overwhelming grand opening and a noticeably swamped bar staff led Gugni to rethink The Bedford’s offerings. With more than thirty wine  and twenty beer options, there are only three cocktails on the menu. To offer the highest and most consistent quality drinks, Gugni decided to take a step back.  “I don’t want to say we are a cocktail bar,” admits Gugni, “but we are a bar that does great cocktails.”  Read the rest of this entry »

411: All Mixed Up

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kovallogoKoval Distillery will hold its first mixology contest on Saturday, November 28. Taking place at 7pm at Binny’s Beverage Depot in the South Loop, contestants will go head to head and create an on-the-spot, original cocktail to be judged by a panel of four. “We’re looking to find some great upcoming mixologists that we can collaborate with in the future,” says co-owner Sonat Birnecker Hart. Koval Distillery is a family-owned business, boasting high-end, all-organic grain spirits and kosher products. “There aren’t that many small family-owned distilleries anymore; they were all wiped out during prohibition,” says Hart. “We make everything here from scratch, and it’s all organic and kosher. It’s important to build sustainable agriculture.”

The Boozehound Strikes Back: Why Drinks Over Dearborn needs to be saved

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By Michael NagrantBeer_Wall-200x149

“Second floor retail is murder,” says Kyle McHugh, aka “The Boozehound” and owner of boutique wine, beer and spirits retailer Drinks Over Dearborn (DOD). Though McHugh learned this truism in business school, he opened DOD on the second floor of an old office building called The Raleigh on Dearborn between Erie and Ontario anyway.

It wasn’t that he was the Evil Knievel of liquor retailers interested in spitting on MBA textbook theories. Rather, a greater truism trumped all: rent prices in the Gold Coast (an area he preferred for its affluent traffic) were a straight-up serial killing. McHugh figured he could better avoid the death of his business by executing his business plan the right way: get a bigger space to conduct classes, tastings and host a wide variety of interesting stock instead of compromising and blowing his life’s savings and small-business loan on a dinky little box on the first floor.

And in a business climate where faux anonymity and cloak and dagger is the new version of the Vegas-style blinking neon sign, who could discount McHugh’s decision? After all, the Lincoln Park restaurant Alinea doesn’t even have a sign and the popular Wicker Park cocktail lounge The Violet Hour looks like a graffiti-covered abandoned building.

If you build it, they will come, right? Read the rest of this entry »

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

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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 »

The Art of Cocktails, story already in progress

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The new cocktail menu at Sepia, curated by Joshua Pearson & Peter Vestinos Read the rest of this entry »

Healthy Cocktail? Has someone found the Holy Grail?

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partidaglass2_v21That we’ve become big fans of the mixological mysticism of Adam Seger is no secret. So though we normally file cocktaily gimmicks in our perpetual maybe file, the notion that Seger has concocted a diet-friendly potion caught our eye. And his publicist has been so kind to forward the recipe for the LookBetterNaked martini, along with this description of its, um, benefits:

“The LookBetterNaked margarita is made from all-natural ingredients, including Partida Reposado tequila, Sambazon Organic Acai, organic agave nectar, rosemary, egg white and fresh squeezed lime juice. Using a Sambazon Pure Organic Acai smoothie pack and Partida Organic Agave Nectar, the margarita is filled  with antioxidants, amino acids, dietary fiber, iron, calcium, cholesterol-reducing fructans and Vitamins A and C. The rosemary is rich in vitamin E, preventing cancer and skin damage. An egg white provides a lean source of protein, while the fresh lime juice prevents heart disease and gives an extra dose of Vitamin C. TheLookBetterNaked margarita is this year’s answer to those countless toasts of the season. Read the rest of this entry »

Gin Blossom: Bridget Albert keeps it “Market-Fresh”

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albertone1By Michael Nagrant

Bridget Albert has gin in her blood. Albert, the chief mixologist for Southern Wine and Spirits and the co-author (with Mary Barranco) of the newly released “Market-Fresh Mixology,” from Surrey Books, is a fourth-generation bartender. Her lavender-eyed great aunt Tilly started the string by hopping behind the family tavern in Coal City, Illinois as a 12-year-old. Bridget’s then 10-year-old great grandmother soon joined Tilly and became a fixture in the street, hand-chiseling ice off the old delivery trucks with her fierce ice pick. Albert says, “My great grandfather used to get scared when he saw his wife running around with that pick.” The family lived above the tavern, and Albert’s great-grandmother would occasionally manage the tavern by peeking through the knots in the rickety floor down to survey the bar room below.

As a 16-year-old boy, Albert’s paternal grandfather, a Polish immigrant living on the East Side of Joliet, gathered up the gin made in his mother’s pot still, borrowed a car from an Italian family, and drove up the back-roads to Chicago selling the hooch during prohibition. He’d pay off policemen along the way while working the speakeasy circuit, often landing at the still-extant Green Door (678 North Orleans). Read the rest of this entry »