One cannot help but question how anything got done back in the Mad Men days of martini lunches; ”I entered your office, so let’s have some whisky”; and after work cocktails… everyday. As glamourous as it may look, how did they stomach it? A Chicago ad agency’s creative director even attempted to spend a day under the motto of “What would Don Draper do?” and chronicled his experience in the Tribune’s RedEye. Needless to say, he had a flurry of emails from his company’s HR department. At Launch we may not be starting our days with a Bloody Mary but it is nice to enjoy a well-crafted drink after a busy week of work. Here is a list of some great spots in Chicago that have mastered the art of the cocktail.
The Violet Hour – Best Overall
The Violet Hour does not even have a sign outside. As pretentious as this sounds, the speakeasy has the caliber of cocktails that makes the line and long list of rules worth the wait. So dress in your “Saturday’s best,” and prepare yourself for an intense drink. The extensive drink menu is broken down by liquor type and has classics such as the Dark and Stormy or Pimm’s Cup, to modern day twists on old favorites such as the Hibiscus Old Fashioned. If you are a fan of gin, the Juliet and Romeo made with Beefeater, mint, cucumber and rose water is a must have.
The Drawing Room – Most Innovative
This cocktail hot spot has a seasonal menu of drinks that is sure to please. Most of the bitters and mixers are made in-house and the bartenders and servers are excited to share their knowledge with you. Chief Mixologist Charles Joly has created a menu that stretches your drinking imagination, from the “Tamale Guy #3″ which has liquors I’ve never heard of mixed with a Mexican horchata, or the “In a Pickle” which is created from Hendrick’s gin, St. Germain, Velvet Falernum, dill and cucumber. If you want to witness the fine art of cocktail making, request that the bartender prepare the drinks at your table.
Shaws Oyster Bar – Best Martini and Oysters
For an old school Chicago experience, enjoy a happy hour at Shaws Oyster bar. With their expertly made martinis and fresh oysters you cannot go wrong. From 4-6 most nights, you can get half off oysters.
Boka- Fine Dining with Drinks to Match
While many fine dining restaurants claim to have speciality cocktails, more often than not the drinks fall short. As the line between fine dining and fine drinking experiences continues to be blurred, some restaurants are getting it right. Boka offers some of the best New American cuisine in the city and has an exceptional menu of cocktails to match. Try the Vineyard Sour (Old Tom Gin, Malbec reduction, blackberry syrup and mint) or even try the Dealer’s Choice cocktail which allows you to pick a base spirit and flavor profile and the mixologist will create a cocktail just for you.
Mercadito – Best Use of Tequila
If tequila is your spirit of choice, check out Mercadito, a Mexican taqueria and vibrant bar which serves an impressive list of tequila cocktails. The drinks truly challenge your taste buds through their inventive use of spices. For example, the El Pepino el Pyu mixes tequilla, cucumber, hoja santa, lemon and is rimmed with cumin salt. If you are looking for more of a lounge atmosphere, go downstairs to Double A, which has a separate and equally impressive drink list.
Watershed - Under-the-Radar Gem
Recently opened in the basement of Pops for Champagne, Watershed is an intimate parlor setting that is dedicated to serving spirits, craft beer, and snacks from the Great Lakes region. Their “Shake in the Hay” cocktail combines North Shore Gin No. 6, green chartreuse, lime, cucumber and house-made celery bitters. Another favorite is their house Manhattan, which will leave you feeling like Don Draper after a sucessful pitch.
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