Hello Oy!sters! It’s your friendly neighborhood Jewish bartender, back again with some exciting things to tell you. To me, Chicago summers mean wonderful weather and sizzling hot spots, overflowing with some of the best cocktails to cool you down or pick you up. I have personally scouted the city and only have enough room in this issue for six of the hottest to check out this summer, including spots even native Chicagoans might not know about. Join me for this virtual tour of the best places in the downtown area to kick back and savor the flavor!
The Lux Bar – 18 E. Bellevue Pl.
This bar is a great introduction to the Chicago bar scene, residents and visitors alike. I knew when I stepped in through the doors and saddled up at the bar for a drink that this was a neat place to be, any time of the day, outside or in. Now, in terms of cocktails there are many ways to go here. If you want to play it relatively safe I would recommend the Key West Mango Frappe with orange vodka, mango puree and fresh ginger, or perhaps the Fresh Fruit Sling, made with lemon vodka, lemon juice, homemade simple syrup and seasonal fruit. For those willing to go outside their comfort zone, the Ramos Fizz is simply amazing—the drink is crafted with raw egg white and cream and after some vigorous shaking, the cream and egg whites blend giving the cocktail a rich, frothy finish.
This cocktail was made famous by a bartender in New Orleans, who would set up his Gin Fizz station, hire twenty men and have each cocktail shaken for 15 minutes per person and handed down the line to each man until it had been shaken continuously for hours! It’s a fun journey of flavors that everyone should try once.
De La Costa – 465 E Illinois St.
This Chicago hot spot is a must-see for anyone looking for a good time. While it’s known primarily for its food and atmosphere, the signature cocktails are surprisingly well-constructed and creative. The selection of cocktails begins with standard bar fare: the cosmopolitan, the Mojito, etc. As I continued down the list I came across something wild and new in the cocktail world that quite possibly may be this summer’s best drink. Called "Poptails," these delicious drinks arrive in squat martini glasses and are garnished with flavored alcoholic popsicles! Try the sensational coco-lime Poptail and enjoy the fun atmosphere all night long.
Nacional 27 – 325 W. Huron St.
This fusion restaurant, known for its eclectic atmosphere and good eats, is often overlooked for its dazzling drinks. National 27 takes cocktails to a whole new level, turning them into meals in a glass! Their drink menu is full of a wide range of white and red wines to enjoy from many parts of the world, but they also boast quite a selection of rums and tequilas to sample alone or mixed. Adam Seger, head bar chef and sommelier, creates many of his own syrups and mixes in-house, including Bloody Marys, Sangria, Tres Leches and Horchata. He even makes his own maraschino cherries. He has won many accolades for his pioneering skills behind the bar, and it shows in his signature drinks. My recommendation, other than wine, would be the Passion Fruit Screwdriver, topped with a beautiful pineapple-vanilla foam garnish.
Cru – 25 E. Delaware St.
While Cru is my main competition for clientele, I cannot deny its history and reputation as one of the premier wine bars in the Gold Coast area, on the corner of Wabash and Delaware. Not only is their wine selection exquisite, but they are also down the street from one of Chicago’s oldest Jewish congregations, Chicago Sinai Congregation. My cousin Evan Moffic is the Assistant rabbi at the reform synagogue, so join the congregation if you need a place to daven in the city at the last minute!
But back to Cru. It’s is the perfect place to relax outside, enjoy a glass of wine, and observe the bustling Michigan Avenue crowds. My recommendations are as follows: for sparking, try the Portuguese Brut Rose, pink in color but full of flavor. For a white wine, either the Chenin Blanc from South Africa, or the more expensive (but well worth it) Chapoutier from the rich Rhone Valley in France. The red to sample here is the sinsky Merlot from Napa. Cru also offers sparkling cider and sake and a very tasty Saketini made with Ketel One and pickled ginger.
Inter-Continental Hotel – 505 N. Michigan Ave.
When trying to decide which beverage depots to share, I had to put at least one hotel bar on the list, and this is one experience you can’t afford to pass up. Alex Rose, a classmate of mine at the Academy and the Assistant Bar Manager at The Bar located in the hotel, can’t stop talking about his establishment’s trip back in time to Chicago’s infamous 1920’s Prohibition Era, décor and all! This might surprise you, but rather than choose a Prohibition drink or one of their many fabulous martinis, I am recommending their semi-secret and ultra-fabulous Cosmopolitan. Guaranteed to be lip-smacking good! Make this one of your stops as you bar hop through the city and you won’t be disappointed.
Cityscape Bar – Holiday Inn Chicago Mart Plaza • 350 West Mart Center Drive
Finally! This is my personal hidden gem that few Chicagoans know about, and the word is spreading fast! You know how great chefs always say that presentation matters, that we “eat with our eyes first?” Well, this bar nestled atop the Holiday Inn and boasting one of the most gorgeous nighttime skyline views the city has to offer, fits the bill. It offers an amazing cocktail list. If you’re a fan of tea, you’ll love their Pomegranate Rose martini with a rare European rose nectar and a candied lime slice. For spice lovers, the Cajun Spice martini consisting of pepper vodka and pepper-stuffed olives is the drink for you. However, my personal favorite takes me back to when I was a kid in Wisconsin sampling some of the best root beer from the original A&W store. The Root Beer Float Martini is made with Absolute Vodka, root beer schnapps, Godiva Chocolate Liqueur and a Root Beer candy.
Well, I hope you all found this guide to be helpful and are eager to explore. I encourage all of you to not fear the mixed drink–GUYS: DO NOT BE AFRAID OF MIXED DRINKS!!! Break the shackles of alcoholic conformity, take a leap of faith and try something different. Start with what you know you like and work from there.
I know there are plenty of places that I did not cover that would make this list easily, so please feel free to share your favorite drinks and places to toast. As always, I am here to answer any of your questions or give my opinions on favorite cocktail recipes or cool drinking establishments.