Familiar Cocktails With a Playful Twist

This is a craft cocktail review by Leah Nolan of the Chicago Chic featuring the Build Your Own Manhattan at LUXBAR in Chicago.

Half a decade ago most bar menus included half a page featuring cocktails so sweet that only Plumpy and Princess Lolly would enjoy them, and the other half was comprised of drinks designed to, in the words of every dad in America, “Put a little hair on your chest.” Thankfully, that gap has closed. Craft cocktails are, undoubtedly, having a moment. Gone are the days of drinks mixed with one part alcohol quantity of the bartender’s choosing, one part sugar and one part instant regret.

We now live in a world where beverage directors set standards and cocktails are crafted using seasonal ingredients that are well thought out and professionally executed. Chicago is a playground for craft cocktail connoisseurs and beginners alike. So now the only question left to answer is, which one of these will you try first?

LUXBAR, The Manhattan

No longer just for old men slurring diatribes with a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other, the Manhattan has evolved (much like smoking regulations). This is evident at LUXBAR where they offer a “Build Your Own Manhattan” menu. Bar patrons have the freedom to choose which types of Rye, Vermouth, Bitters and ice are mixed in their drink. How exactly do you choose ice? None served up, none served low, hoshizaki or my personal favorite, hand cut large. If you’re not particularly confident building your own Manhattan, the extremely knowledgeable bartenders are happy to go over flavor profiles with you to ensure you craft a pleasing libation that is unique in taste. And as always, there are cherries on top.

18 East Bellevue Place, Chicago, IL 60611

A cocktail review of the Old Abe DIY Cocktails at ACME Hotel by Leah Nolan of the Chicago Chic.

ACME Hotel, DIY Cocktails

 Much like the previously mentioned, ACME Hotel is inviting guests to take control of their drinks. Type A personalities rejoice, you get to call all the shots (pun intended) with the DIY Cocktail Kit, featuring the Old Abe. In the kit guests will find a cocktail shaker, two glasses, little bottles of Tangueray Gin, homemade rosemary and black pepper syrup and grapefruit bitters. Just add ice, mix your desired amounts, shake, pour and then garnish with the beautifully plump Juniper berries provided. If you’d rather not leave the quantity of ingredients up to chance, a recipe card with the bartender’s recommendations is included.

15 East Ohio Street, Chicago, IL 60611

A cocktail review of the Hamilton by Leah Nolan of the Chicago Chic at Seven Lions.

Seven Lions, The Hamilton

In celebration of Broadway’s highly revered Hamilton, Seven Lions created a punchy Bacardi rum based concoction in the play’s namesake. Master sommelier Alpana Singh shared, “We wanted to do something with rum to touch on Hamilton’s Caribbean roots.  The drink is basically a cross between a Moscow mule and a mojito with the addition of lemongrass to make it refreshing and evocative of a Caribbean escape.” Mission accomplished. As soon as you close your eyes and a take a sip, any thoughts of inclement weather instantly disappear. I think our founding father would approve.

130 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60603

Drumbar, The Frank Underwood

Drumbar is raising a glass to America’s most salacious president, our favorite drug dealing suburban mom and the incarcerated ladies in orange. And no, I’m not referencing Bill Clinton, Griselda Blanco, Teresa Giudice or Martha Stewart. Capitalizing on the euphemism, “Netflix and Chill,” Drumbar has created a cocktail menu entirely centered on popular Netflix shows. Each libation under the #CocktailsandChill theme features a boozy to chill rating, with chill being less alcohol forward and boozy being riddled with liquor, but in a well-balanced and easy-to-drink way. The Frank Underwood features familiar flavors of Prosecco, elderberry and lemon, while the smokiness of the mezcal hits you in a brusque manner. And just as Frank Underwood takes down his enemies with a smile on his face, the drink stays intriguing sip after sip, all the while lowering your cognitive abilities. It is decidedly more pleasant than Mr. Underwood himself.

Other cocktails to try: Orange is the New Black, Stranger Things and The Botwin.

201 East Delaware Place, Chicago, IL 60611

A cocktail review of sake by Leah Nolan of the Chicago Chic at Imperial Lamian.

Imperial Lamian, Sake

Making sake is a complex art form. Often compared to wine, but in fact created more like beer, sake comes in many varieties. Sake is made by milling rice to remove the bran and then undergoes a brewing process. As the milling process reveals layers closer to the heart of the rice, impurities are stripped away. With one of the best sake programs in the city, Imperial Lamian’s Beverage Director, Paul Ballesteros let me in on a little secret, “As more impurities are removed the price of the sake goes up.”

So if you’re starting out what should you try? Just ask for the Hakutsuru Sayuri Nigori Sake (That’s a mouthful!). Sayuri translates to “a little lily,” so it is no surprise this slightly cloudy sake comes in a beautiful little pink bottle. It is light, easy to drink, and pairs well with the London Duck. If you like to err on the sweeter side of things and want to try something a little pricier (but so worth it) the Shinsei from Kyoto has light floral notes. It is extremely pleasant to sip and best complements the Wok Friend Prawn Salad.

If straight sake isn’t your thing, Imperial Lamian has many mouthwatering sake based cocktails. Most notably, the Imperial Gimlet, which is Ballesteros’ pride and joy. Made with one of the best plum sakes in the world, Aragoshi, this is your chance to experience something really special. With notes of lemongrass and homemade simple syrup, the plum replaces the citrus in a traditional gimlet for an unexpected and welcomed twist. This is a favorite amongst the happy hour crowd.

6 West Hubbard Street, Chicago, IL 60654

Leah Nolan is an ardent food enthusiast. To say she's obsessed with the Chicago food scene is an understatement. With an unquenchable curiosity about the world, she loves to travel and dive into new culinary spaces. As a content editor, graphic designer, and food stylist by day, she loves combining her passion for food with her love of writing and design. Her goal is to inspire people to appreciate extraordinary food as much as she does.

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