As purveyors of the unusual, it’s no surprise that something new and wonderfully unexpected is happening inside the ACME Hotel. Under the tutelage of Benjamin Schiller, master mixologist Christian Hetter is spearheading something special. Bodega is a cocktail lounge located on the second story of the hotel and the entire sipping experience is reminiscent of a low-key house party. The small space is filled with cozy but contemporary couches and chairs, and tables of contrasting heights are arranged throughout the room. The bar is located in the back of the space, and while the bartenders can mix up whatever concoction your heart desires (with the help of the Berkshire Room); the focus is on their carbonated beverages, booze-filled darker drinks and the ever popular alcoholic slushy.
These thoughtfully prepared pre-batched cocktails are part science, part art. The menu is split into three sections – Fizzy, Boozy and Frosty. When making the fizzy drinks, Hetter selects his fruit of choice and strains out the juice, mixes up a batch of agar agar (a vegan gelatin made from seaweed) and then waits for it to bind to the solids in the juice. Once everything is strained out, he’s left with a clear, clarified liquid packed with flavor. Hetter then adds in the other components (the alcohol is clarified with liquid nitrogen) and allows each mixture to carbonate over the course of a few days.
When all is said and done, each carbonated beverage is decidedly whimsical and I’m convinced his creations belong on the shelves of the Fizzy Lifting Drinks Room in Willy Wonka’s Factory. And while they won’t literally make you hit the ceiling like Charlie and Grandpa, one too many and you’ll find yourself face to face with the floor. Sip slowly and remember everything in moderation. They will sneak up on you. Each cocktail is available for $13.
This cocktail is Mexico in a glass. Made with tequila, Aperol, grapefruit and lime, it is packed with punchy and bright flavors. Once it was gone I was ready to book a flight.
I’ll let you in on a little secret – the long, hand cut ice cube in this gin-based drink is filled with absinthe (Van Gogh is cursing himself for not inventing it first!). The citrus forward accompaniments of blue curacao, lemon and cocchi Americano (an Italian aperitif wine) give it a distinctly Caribbean twist. It’s light, polished and a little too easy to finish.
Loosely inspired by purple drank (sans codeine, sorry Lil’ Wayne), this twist on a classic Aviation cocktail uses Peruvian Pisco in lieu of gin. The Violette gives it a flowery, sweet aroma while the lemon adds a pop of acid, and the finishing notes of cherries jovially dance along the taste buds.
Served in a pint bottle, this sharp and poignant libation is meant for slow sipping. The bourbon is oaky, the Amer is savory and the Suze adds a delicate spice. It makes for one satisfyingly smooth gulp.
This boozy potion isn’t for everyone. Rabarbaro, the trendiest new liqueur to hit the bar scene, lends a smoky hand to the rye and rum based cocktail, but tastes a little medicinal if you’re not used to it. It is flavored with strong Indian spices and the taste is bold.
A Negroni cocktail is an acquired taste and if you haven’t quite developed an appreciation for the robust flavors, this slushy is an excellent way to try it. Made with rum instead of gin and mixed with Campari, pineapple and coconut, the taste is fruitier and less intense than a traditional Negroni cocktail.
Executing something inventive but simple is no easy task. With creativity at the forefront and house party vibes in the background, Bodega is an inviting destination where you can kick back and enjoy modern cocktails. It feels like home, but is equipped with a brilliant master mixologist at the helm of the evening.
15 East Ohio Street, Chicago, IL 60611
Featured Photo by Ashok Selvam | Eater Chicago