The Cocktail Gadabout #81

Chicago

[May 10th, 2017] Chicago, being a bit smaller than Toronto, is only better in which to drink because of The Aviary, a world class experimental bar on the 50 Best Bars list year after year. We don’t have anything like it in our city. Otherwise, however, Toronto is just as good a place for cocktail bars as Chicago. Both are devoid of truly classic hotel bars, and both have decent tiki options, creative hipster spots as well as speakeasies and restaurant bars.

  • original_barThe Violet Hour: I had one drink at this beautiful bar just west of downtown and found the staff and bartenders unusually friendly.  The cocktail itself was somewhat just okay but by the time I left at 6:30 PM, there were thirty people in line, which likely says a lot.
  • The Sportsman’s Club
  • Barrelhouse Flat
  • Analogue
  • Bernard’s Bar at The Waldorf-Astoria: a rather atypical hotel bar at the stunning and modern Waldorf-Astoria.  A small and cozy, leather-clad room on the second floor is very intimate and full of well-heeled thirty-somethings.  The cocktail list is brief and classics driven but my Vesper was ordinary, unfortunately.
  • aviary-interior_11WGB-The Aviary: It takes a lot to impress me at a cocktail bar, and I have to admit I was totally blown away by The Aviary.  Though ultra swanky, I was made to feel incredibly welcome.  I found the hostess, waitstaff and manager exceptionally warm, knowledgeable and professional.  The decor is essentially the opposite of so many of the speakeasies opening everywhere (though The Office downstairs is their take on that theme): elegant, bright, comfortable and airy.  It wasn’t really my scene but I totally appreciate what they are trying to do and how much effort they have put into every detail.  I even noticed the support staff all poured water the exact same way.  Some may find this over-the-top but I feel it is a reflection of the attention to detail that no doubt imbues the bar from top to bottom.  I ordered a Joseph’s Cane and was introduced to guignolet, a totally new spirit for me to investigate (which almost never happens anymore).  Anyway, the cocktail was, quite simply, one of the best of my life.  What I didn’t know was that The Aviary is more or less a molecular bar, much in the same vein as Barchef in Toronto, Nottingham Forest in Milan and Hyde & Seek in Bangkok.  Presented in a highball, the glass was filled with softish mini spheres of frozen guignolet (a cherry/wine liqueur from France) and garnished with a thin brick of cachaca-soaked peeled sugar cane topped with a cilantro leaf holding a Horton Hears a Who arrangement of toasted coconut, finger lime cells and a caperberry. The drink itself was cachaca, champagne and finger lime-infused coconut rum.  I ate every single guignolet sphere.
  • WGB-Three Dots and a Dash: Very recently this tiki bar was listed on the 50 Best Bars list but I think its own popularity has been its downfall. I was there on a late Friday night, however, when most bars are a bit nutty. Anyway, I had to wait in line to get in, which I was okay with as it moved quickly but, once inside, I was stunned with the packed and frantic nature of the place. It reminded me of a crappy dance club rather than one of the best bars in the world. When I did finally get close to the bar, the bartender was frazzled, and poured premixed tiki classics from taps on the bars, stuffed glasses with garnish and then hurried them off to servers. I ordered a Daiquiri and what arrived was of the Slushee variety. A severe ice cream headache quickly followed. Anyway, everyone around me was barely twenty-two and all were blitzed out of their mind. As a basement spot, I think it might give off a good vibe if the crowd was different. Much, much different. It was recently delisted from the 50 Best Bars list. I’m pretty sure I know why.
  • The Drifter: A high-ceiling basement spot located beneath the Green Room pub, The Drifter is a speakeasy with a neighbourhood feel. Live shows on a small stage at the end of the room make this place stand out among the rest. My celery-based drink was very good, and I would happily return if I lived in the area. Well worth a visit.
  • The Berkshire Room at The Ace Hotel: I only just ran in and out of this hotel bar so I can’t say much. The space is actually very beautiful and inspiring within which to imbibe. That said, I peaked at the cocktail list and it seemed a little flat and dated. One day maybe I’ll go back.
  • The Broken Shaker Chicago: I had just visited the original in Miami was somewhat surprised to learn they had opened a Chicago location in the vicinity of my hotel. Though not quite up to the standards of the venerable Miami spot, it is the nonetheless one of the best places in the city to get a good drink. My cocktail came with a lobster butter wash, which I thought was pretty neat until it arrived warm and somewhat undrinkable. I’d still go back.
  • The Milk Bar at The Chicago Athletic Association: I’ve been to a lot of bars, but nothing really like The Milk Room. Their angle, which I didn’t know ahead of time, is vintage spirits. As a result, their cocktail list starts at about $40 and goes to $200. I heard another patron ask out loud what I myself was too afraid to do, “is this the only cocktail list [gulp]”. But, they’ll make pretty much anything, and will incorporate a vintage spirit into the drink for something different. I had an A La Louisiane with vintage Benectidine. The space is one of my all-time favourites: dark, closet-like, extremely dimly lit and cavernous. The Milk Room is not to be missed.
  • The Green Bar at Duck Duck Goat: I have no idea if they even serve cocktails but this tiny, emerald room at the front of this incredible Chinese restaurant is without question one of the most stunning places on the planet in which to consume a drink. I was blown away.
  • Billy Sunday
  • Celeste
  • The Dawson
  • *Lost Lake
  • Punch House
  • Scofflaw
  • Slippery Slope
  • The Whistler
  • Artemesia
  • Best Intentions

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