Booze Muse

The art and craft of liquid inspiration

The Real Thing: Milwaukee’s Bryant’s May be the Best Cocktail Bar in the Midwest

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The Bar/Photo: Bryant's Cocktail Lounge

The Bar/Photo: Dan Bishop

By Anthony Todd

Seems like these days, every mediocre bar pretends to be something it’s not. You know the places: a modern-day speakeasy with no sign, a forties lounge with swing music or a sixties spot with highballs. Even when it’s done right, there’s something vaguely fake about the whole endeavor, like an Irish pub in a mall filled with manufactured antiques. You get the feeling about what it’s trying to be, but it’s not the real thing.

That’s why Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge (1579 South 9th), open since 1938 and hiding in a quiet Milwaukee neighborhood, is both a blast from the past and a breath of fresh air. It is exactly what it seems to be—a classic, local bar making high-end cocktails pretty much the way they’ve made them since the days when men wore hats and manual cash registers were functional and not simply cool antiques. It’s a bar where the classic cocktails never went out of style. Read the rest of this entry »

High Dive: Old Town Ale House’s Doormen Include a Pulitzer Prize Winner and Bad Bad Leroy Brown’s Trader Son

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Bill Currie, Hawkeye/Photo: Rosemary Lane

Bill Currie, Hawkeye/Photo: Rosemary Lane

By Rosemary Lane

Old Town Ale House (219 West North) has no bouncers. According to owner Tobin Mitchell, the iconic late-night bar—known for lewd political paintings and Second City patrons—has “doormen.” And not just any doormen.

Walk into the dimly lit bar Sunday through Wednesday, from 8am to 4am, and you’ll spot a seventy-four-year-old guy at the door by the name of Bill Currie, but everyone calls him Hawkeye. Currie sits on a stool by the door, a plaid bag full of New York Times newspapers right next to him. He does four crosswords every day. An institution at the Ale House and beloved by Second City students, Currie tells stories, makes winking wisecracks and, if he finds you interesting, he’ll try to suss out the Gaelic roots of your name. Read the rest of this entry »

House of Tiki: Lost Lake is Still Finding Itself, but Thank You is Welcome

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Welcome to Lost Lake/Photo: David Hammond

Welcome to Lost Lake/Photo: David Hammond

By David Hammond

When Paul McGee, one of Chicago’s premier designers of adult beverages, launched Three Dots and a Dash (435 North Clark), he reignited our enduring fascination with tiki bar culture. The tiki spirit had never flamed out, of course, and it’s been throbbing for decades in all its over-the-top weirdness at places like the caught-in-amber Hala Kahiki Lounge (2834 River Road, River Grove) and the wiggly floorshows—featuring Polynesian Elvis—at The Tiki Terrace (1591 Lee, Des Plaines).

At Lost Lake (3154 West Diversey), McGee captains his sophomore foray into the hallucinogenic world of South Seas décor and drinks bearing tantalizingly creepy names like Zombie, Captain’s Blood and Suffering Bastard.

Three Dots and a Dash rests under the big umbrella of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, and it’s cast in that undeniably successful mold. Just as Mon Ami Gabi emulates the best qualities of a French bistro and Shaw’s evokes the vibe of an old timey urban crab house, Three Dots and a Dash seemed to us perhaps a tad self-consciously designed, perhaps even over-capitalized, but with better drinks—and a better-looking crowd—than just about any other tiki bar we’d ever been to. And it’s the only tiki bar we’d ever seen with a velvet rope to channel throngs of nouveau tiki enthusiasts. Read the rest of this entry »

Little Absinthe Bar on the Prairie: Chasing the Green Fairy Down the Road

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Steve Frano at Polo Room/Photo: David Hammond

Steve Frano at Polo Room/Photo: David Hammond

By David Hammond

Absinthe is a legendary beverage. The green liquor achieved global celebrity before it was banned in many countries, including the United States and much of Europe. Absinthe became legal again in the U.S. in 2007, and now it’s turning up in the most unexpected places.

In Polo, Illinois, several miles north of Dixon, there’s the Polo Room (712 North Division). Owner Steve Frano is way into absinthe, but he’s attracted a coterie of local absinthe enthusiasts. When I visited his little absinthe bar on the prairie around Christmas time, I was surprised to see young farmer dudes bellying up to the bar with their DeKalb hats on, ordering glasses of the once-forbidden green liquor.

Frano has an absinthe menu of about fifteen selections, but there are more behind the bar. When you order one, Frano performs the ritual of drizzling water from a huge ice-filled glass reservoir over a sugar cube, perched on a special slotted spoon, into the liquor, which then acquires a somewhat yellowish, cloudy aspect. Read the rest of this entry »

The Levee Rises? Vice Is Brewing In The South Loop

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Quinton Cole/Photo: Lilly Carey

Quintin Cole/Photo: Lilly Carey

By Ben Kramer

When the snowmageddon of 2011 hit Chicago, it shut down schools, businesses and even Lake Shore Drive. The storm also managed to form a friendship that would eventually lead to the birth of Vice District Brewing. “We met as neighbors,” co-owner Quintin Cole recalls on meeting fellow co-owner Curtis Tarver II. “He helped dig me out during the snowmageddon, and that’s how we met.”

Three-some years after that historic winter, Vice District Brewing and its taproom are set to debut August 22, with their Black IPA, Extra Special Bitter, Blonde, IPA and Molasses Porter. Opening with unique styles was a conscious decision. “We decided to come out with something that’s a little different,” explains Cole. “Most people are unfamiliar with some of the styles we’re coming out with. Black IPA is not something a lot of people are familiar with…we just felt like we wanted to have a nice mix of beers that represent what we like, but also complementary to people coming in who if they want an IPA we have one.” Read the rest of this entry »

Hop Stop: Can Beermiscuous Be the Coffeehouse of Beer?

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unnamedBy Stefan Castellanos

A young man journeys to a faraway land, its culture sparking a passion deep within, one that would go on to shape the man’s life in ways unimaginable. This familiar story could involve all manner of discoveries—language, the arts, sport, siesta. But as it did many Americans in the early nineties, it was a fascination with beer that took hold of a young Paul Leamon during his travels through Europe. Aged for more than two decades now, during which craft brews have gradually achieved omnipresence in our taverns and liquor marts, Paul’s relationship with beer has deepened in complexity, spilling into new and unforeseen walks of his life. An avid home-brewer, a connoisseur of food-beer pairings, and now an entrepreneur, he seeks to further startup ventures and a greater appreciation for craft beer via his newest project, Beermiscuous. Read the rest of this entry »

Cal’s: A Love Story

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cal'scrosswalkBy Keralee Froebel

Cal’s, arguably the world’s best—or worst, depending on who’s speaking—dive bar, has closed, and not because of economic pressure, but because the owners, the brothers Cal and Fred Feirstein, are heading into their long-anticipated retirement.

Open since 1947 at the corner of Wells and Van Buren, Cal’s thrived simply because it refused to change with the times. Painted baby-shit brown on the inside, with band posters and playlists for wall art, the decor was virtually nonexistent, the bathrooms didn’t function and no matter how many times the bartender mopped the inside of the bar it managed to always look filthy. And yet, Cal’s was beloved by the chosen few who either found it quite by accident, or heard strange murmurings of its mythical existence. “Two dollar PBRs in a downtown bar?  Real punk music after dark downtown?  Cheap drinks with no attitude?  Lawyers, traders, UIC hipsters, bike messengers and postal workers drinking side by side?”

The actual existence of Cal’s was a dream come true for the class-smashing flaneur and urban adventurer.  Where else could one go to get such a particular and delicious reduction of urban society? Coming to Cal’s was like tasting a fine, long-simmering bouillabaisse: it took time and patience to cultivate the contrasting flavors that co-existed there, and it rarely got as real and flavorful as it used to get at Cal’s on a random weeknight happy hour. Read the rest of this entry »

A Sense of Decency: Moscow Mules and DIY Drinks at the Highball Lounge

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Photo: Philamonjaro

At first, walking up the stairs into the Highball Lounge is a little jarring—the shiny, clunky metal stairs are loud and modern, not what you would expect from a retro bar like this. But walking into the dimly lit bar, the atmosphere and music soothe the nerves. The walls and decor are fifties and sixties-inspired, and while they reach into the past, the bar is definitely in the present. It’s like a dream, a mixing of two eras, a surreal place to cut loose and not think about reality for a while.

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Cheers! A British bartender reviews Chicago’s English pubs

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English, an English pub, reviewed by an Englishman, in English

By Ben Small

Trends come and go, change and evolve, but one thing has always remained a constant: what makes an archetypal English pub English. The taste of a hand-pumped cask ale; the sense of age and history, that if the walls could talk, they’d certainly have a few tales to tell; the worn-down Persian carpets that have a musky smell after absorbing years of spilt beer; the polished wood surfaces and overhead exposed beams that provide the source of many bumped and bruised heads; the wholesome experience of pub fare; that comforting feeling that you’re relaxing in a stranger’s front room. “Pub” is an abbreviation of “public house,” and that explains the crucial tenet of what makes a pub a pub, to feel a comfortable belonging in a place that feels like a home. If that means there’s a pub dog nestling up against your legs or that there’s a roaring fire to keep you warm in the winter, then so be it. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Duke of Perth

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A disclaimer should be lodged before I begin discussing the Duke of Perth: It is a Scottish pub, and some may find it slightly audacious, maybe even a little offensive, that an English chap is making evaluations on intended Scottish cultural imitation. I am no expert on pubs in Scotland, although I have certainly frequented a few of the establishments north of the border. Regardless, the Duke of Perth has an aura akin to any given English pub, only with a much larger emphasis on men dressed in kilts and whisky.

The Duke of Perth really feels like it has been around a long time. Read the rest of this entry »