Monday, June 14, 2010

What’s Mixing in Chicago

The Modern Mixologist: Contemporary Classic CocktailsThe word “bartender” has taken on a new meaning this century. The bartenders are the ones spending their days mixing gin and tonics and serving beers in local restaurants and corner bars.  The creative ones, who go that extra step in creating drinks, are the mixologists.

I’ve only been living in the Midwest for a year and a half. I wouldn’t begin to call myself an expert on bars in Chicago, having only visited the Windy City a half dozen times. I needed to call for some help and I got it from one of the city’s experts. My friend Theresa Carter (a.k.a. The Local Tourist) took me around Chicago to check out some of the city’s most known mixologists in different neighborhoods.

Our first stop was in the Bucktown-Wicker Park area. This was my first experience going to a hidden bar. Like a Speakeasy during prohibition, The Violet Hour has no fancy door or sign posted outside. It is dark, but cozy – a perfect date spot, or a place for two gals to chat and enjoy the drinks.

Robert is one of The Violet Hour's mixologists extraordinaire. He feels the secret is as much in the ice as it is in the liquor. Each drink is a creation. The first we had was Juliet & Romeo, chosen by GQ as one of the 20 Best Cocktails in America. We certainly enjoyed the mix of gin, mint, cucumber, rose water and lemon. Another treat was the Blue Ridge Manhattan with rye, Carpano Antica, Laphroig and peach bitters.

After a cheese platter for some energy, we were off to the River North section of Chicago to Nacional 27. This Latin restaurant is as known for mixologist Adam Seeger as it is for its Tapas. He wasn’t there when we were, but the drink menu (full of herbs he grows) echoed his influence. In keeping with the Latin theme, we sampled some tasty creations. I loved the Passion Colada Mojito (Skyy Pineapple, coconut, passion fruit, mint, sage and pineapple) and Theresa enjoyed the Look Better Naked Margarita. This drink was made up of Partida Reposado, acai, agave, rosemary and egg white, a recurring theme with mixologists lately.

The froth from the egg white makes a nice presentation, but I’m still not sure I enjoy it.  It certainly wasn’t going to keep the stomach filled, so we just had to try some of Nacional 27’s famous tapas. The Chicken Empanadas were incredible.  I also found the Boniato and Sweet Plantain Croquetas to be quite good. The food here washes down best with the homemade sangrias, including Guava-Passion Ginger and Hibiscus.

Just a few blocks away, in the heart of downtown Chicago, is another place famous for its drinks.  Sable Kitchen & Bar is highlighted by master mixologists Jacques Bezuidenhout, but no one goes behind the bar here without a palate for creativity. This is another place where the ice and egg whites help mix to perfection, but they don’t ignore the beer, with a selection from around the world to around the corner.

Mike put together some specialties for us, including Versailles with Woodford Reserve Bourbon, black cherry jam, organic apple cider and lemon juice, and a version of a Yellow Jacket with Partida Resposado Tequila, St. Germain, Yellow Chartreuse and Orange Bitters. Sable also has a unique menu filled with an assortment of hors d’oeuvres, meals and brick oven flatbreads. We tried the Soft Pretzels with smoked cheese cheddar dip, Bacon Wrapped Dates with Blue Cheese and Veal Meatballs with Spicy Ketchup Glaze, all of which were delicious.

It may be awhile before I head back to check out Chicago’s bars, but you can always find something to do – or drink – in the Windy City through The Local Tourist.

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