Booze Muse

The art and craft of liquid inspiration

Tiki Up!: The new Bottom Lounge offers more than just music

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It’s Friday after the first night of Pitchfork fest. West Loop bar and music venue Bottom Lounge is suddenly swarmed with Pitchforkians creating a long wait at the upstairs Volcano Room Rum Bar. The bartenders run around trying to accommodate the demanding rush of people. Downstairs, the bar is slightly less chaotic. Comprised of two bars, a music room and an outdoor patio, the place is vast enough that even during this busy night, there’s still enough space to easily move around and not bump into anyone. Formerly a taxi-cab repair shop, the darkly lit loft space is barely illuminated by candles on tables and the bar. Tables and booths are scattered throughout the levels as loud rock music blasts through the PA system. Although downstairs is fairly chill, the real attraction of Bottom is the Volcano Room and deck: The tiki-themed bar boosts more than fifty brands of rum alone. Bottles of liquor are aligned on the shelves waiting to be poured as a life-sized totem pole glares at the bargoers. Outside, the spacious wooden deck, one of the biggest in town, unravels before the city. The Sears Tower gleams in the distance as people imbibe and, gasp, smoke through the muggy night. Besides the rum, a bevy of beers are on tap from Beamish and Radeberger (served in a giant glass) to the old standby, PBR. A mixed clientele down reasonably priced beers and munch on Bottom’s tasty food such as wraps, chicken tenders, burgers and salads served late into the night.

After closing its original Lakeview location in 2005 to accommodate the Brown Line El reconstruction, the old Bottom Lounge was demolished and the owners settled on this new location. Plagued by several delays­­—mainly due to construction and waiting on city approvals—the rejuvenated Bottom officially reopened its doors in June. The new space is in the same ilk as the old one: two floors combined with a music venue. Original Bottom owners Brian Elmiger and Dan Miskowicz added third partner Mike Miller of Delilah’s to help with liquor promotions like the rum festival held last month. “It’s so early, so it’s a little hard to gauge what’s going to happen,” says Miskowicz. “People are still coming in for the first time.” Miskowicz says so far the place has garnered a positive reaction but is still trying to establish an identity. Whereas the former Bottom was more of a music draw, the new place is more of a late-night drinking and dining hangout. “A lot of people tell us that it reminds them of the old Bottom Lounge,” states Miskowicz. “It’s a rock club, but since it’s at night, everyone hangs out here. At the old Bottom Lounge, we never got people just hanging out there.” (Garin Pirnia)

Bottom Lounge, 1375 West Lake, (312)929-2022

Fearless: When a plain old beer just ain’t enough

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By Tom Lynch

It all started when that first guy put that first lime inside of his Corona.

Beer cocktails. What has this world come to? We’ve grown into an age when things like Miller Chill happen, which is a little different than adding an orange to a Blue Moon.

Despite some friends’ claims that I’m a purist in all fields, I’ve never viewed myself as such. I just kind of, sort of, fear change. But that’s a bit of another story for another bit of time.
When the idea arose that I scavenge the city to find adventurous beer concoctions, I cringed. I don’t do new things very well. I’m a member of that crowd who will try anything, just as long as we’ve tried it before and liked it. But, I thought, what the hell—I’ll just make someone come with me, so I won’t puke alone.

That wasn’t easy. But to be fair, I didn’t sell it all too well.

“Hey man, would you come with me when I somewhat aimlessly run around the city trying out different gross beer mixtures?”

“Is this gonna be like that time you made me run around the city eating fish tacos?”

“Um, no…”

“I have to work.”

But beer is beer and my roommate finally gave in. First stop was Wicker Park’s Handlebar, where I had heard the Guinness Float, a pint of Guinness with soy vanilla ice cream on top, was actually pretty good. (You’ll notice all of the following locations are in the general Wicker Park/Bucktown area because: 1) I wanted to keep everything within walking distance and 2) Well, just because. I can do whatever I want when I’m doing something that frightens me.) I ask the bartender for the float. He says they’re not serving ice cream.

Backfire! This is exactly what I feared. Now I look like that guy who ordered a stupid drink and can’t get it. Nevermind that it’s summer and there’s no ice cream. When do they serve it? I improvise and order a Stiegl Radler lemon beer, a creation that’s half Stiegl beer and half lemon soda. It tastes… nice? More like a watered-down beer, sweetened with sugar. It’s refreshing, make no mistake, a lighter-than-light excursion that, honestly, smells better than it tastes. I would imagine a homemade lemonade-beer (Shandy is what it’s called, for me and the other ignorant saps) would be far too candy-like, and would be impossible to drink with food, let alone drink a hundred of them during a night, ahem, on the town. And that’s really really important for me.

Next up was over on Division Street, at the Adobo Grill, where my roommate and I were destined to sip what we idiotically kept referring to as the “spicy beer.” I know what the drink is called, but I also have a fear of mispronouncing things, so I won’t say it aloud. It’s Sunday afternoon, and the place is dead. We sit at the bar.

“Hey man,” I, goofy and nervous, say to the bartender, “can I have one of those spicy beer things?”

He looks at me with grated amusement. “A Michelada?”

“Uh-huh.”

We get two. And they’re good. Similar to a Bloody Mary, but with beer, a Michelada is mixture of bottled beer (the bartender recommended Pacifico) and various hot sauces, bloody Mary mix, tomato juice, salt and lime. The mug is rimmed with salt and hot pepper, and you drink it through a straw.

Once you get over drinking beer with a straw, the spice sticks to the back of your throat. The aftertaste is the best part, as the residue settles in the corners of your mouth. People like this, I think to myself. Mexican emo plays overhead. The Cubs just lost because they couldn’t hit. No one is in there but me and my accomplice. I’m getting dizzy.

After about a half an hour, I realize half of my drink is still left, and that, in the end, it’s probably not for me. I respectfully finish it, but feel the fireball brewing in my belly (I hadn’t eaten anything) and we decide to venture homeward, tired and hungry. We did stop at Jerry’s Sandwiches down the street—where if the original plan worked we would have scarfed some beer-and-vanilla-custard dessert they’re supposed to have—picked up some food and called it a day. “Flight of the Conchords” was soon on, and I was exhausted from being embarrassed for two hours.

The next night, I’m at Silver Cloud, somewhat late, and I get the adventurous bug—I needed to try that Guinness Float, because, first of all, out of everything I was set to sample, it sounded the best. Also I needed, deep down, to not have this disappointed feeling, this feeling of exclusion, that everyone else enjoys these specialty beers but me. Because, well, I fear being left out.
It’s not on the menu, of course—I’m convinced you have to have bars make this special; Hamburger Mary’s, a great burger and shake joint in Andersonville, didn’t know what the hell I was talking about when I called them and inquired, but said they would make it nonetheless—and when I ask for it the bartender smirks, but agrees to whip one up almost immediately. Don’t ever order it if the bar is busy—you may be killed.

Now, I’ve never been a fan of Black Cows (big surprise), but let me tell you, this thing is amazing. As you could probably imagine, the vanilla ice cream blends rather successfully with the creamy, smooth goodness of Guinness, one of the world’s finest beers. Eat beer with a spoon. I love it. The friend I was with had one as well, and she was delighted (she’s also a pretty, going-against-the-wind drunk, so, make of that what you will).

Everyone at the bar seemed interested. We only had good things to say. This was, indeed, the success I’d been looking for. “I’d drink these all the time if I was total asshole,” I said aloud to no one in particular. And I meant it.

After the Guinness Float had sunk deep into my stomach, there was that desire for normalcy you feel, like when you’re on your way home from a vacation, where you just want things to fall into place and get back to routine. I ordered a PBR, to wash down this bizarre trip. Aaaaaahhhhh. Now that’s tasty.


Handlebar, 2311 West North, (773)384-9546; Adobo Grill, 2005 West Division, (773)252-9990; Jerry’s Sandwiches, 1938 West Division, (773)235-1006 (try that beer and vanilla custard experiment, let me know how it is); Silver Cloud, 1700 North Damen, (773)489-6212.

One Dish: PBR draft

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Pabst Blue Ribbon was my father’s beer when I was small, condensation-filmed six-packs brought home in the dry county from the nearby American Legion Club. Mom never really approved, but I never wanted to drink beer anyway: my beverage palate then tended to Dr. Pepper and since hemp was grown during World War II in Western Kentucky, potent ditch weed was as common as dandelions in every backyard. Years later, in my pre-21 drinking days of rum and strong screwdrivers, a friend one night at Neo found himself with two pints and only one thirst and passed the second along. Free beer? I know I’ll hate it. I don’t remember what the vogue-ish, trend-o pint was those many years ago but I know the locals’ beer of choice is the latter-day PBR, draft for $2. (Their provender brew had been Leinenkugel for over a decade, but when that company raised its barrel cost to boutique prices, Leinie got rubbed out to avoid any confusion about why it was now $4.50.) The tap’s lines are kept clean, they go through kegs and kegs of the stuff, and it’s always the right cold temperature, not too cold, but cold enough to prevent the rim of the glass getting sticky before you get to the bottom. A couple over the course of a night out hit the spot, and they lack the light skunkiness of the canned version. (Canned Old Style is another discussion.) The taste reminds me a little of Chicago tap water, which, at the right chill, is some of the best-tasting city water in the world. Too warm, and it’s not so hot. And I never tire of hearing David Lynch’s cracked tribute to working-class America, whether spoken aloud by someone bellied up to the rail, or in Dennis Hopper’s Frank Booth voice in my head, “Heineken? Fuck that shit! Pabst Blue Ribbon!” Generations of Americans made that beer: German-Americans trump Germans any old night. (Even if it might have been brewed by Canadians.)

PBR’s everywhere; this pint’s the $2 draft at The Rainbo Club, 1156 North Damen. Pabstblueribbon.com