Chicago has shed its reputation as a city crowded with meager taverns, ushering in glam, sophisticated lounges with highly skilled mixologists.
The Aviary’s opening in April 2011—with a full-grade kitchen and a prix-fixe cocktail menu from chef Grant Achatz of Chicago restaurants Next and Alinea—has paved the way for even more sophistication. The hot spot’s competitive reservation system ensures premium service and ample time to prepare cocktails, as well as one-bite snacks, ordered in trios (from foie gras to duck rillette).
Open since February 2012, Tavernita—its Spanish- and Latin American-inspired food menu, the work of chef/partner Ryan Poli and the team behind Mercadito Hospitality—provides a casual after-work atmosphere but with cutting-edge keg cocktails (Booty Collins is the most popular of the seven) developed by the beverage consulting team Tippling Bros.
Mercadito Hospitality’s other Chicago eatery, Mercadito, which opened during the summer of 2009, is equally innovative, with unexpected cocktails like the Smokey Pablo, which features mango and blueberry purée and chipotle powder.
Grab a seat downstairs in the cozy Double A, and embrace the unpredictable with Onawhim: You choose the spirit category and the bar staff does the rest.
The re-imagined Pump Room is on the ground floor of what is now PUBLIC Chicago. A framed photo of Frank Sinatra hangs above what used to be his booth, and cocktails like Marilyn Monroe and Mr. Grant offer a hint of the 1930s and 1940s. Newer creations contain inventive ingredients like tobacco syrup. Modern tweaks—such as dimly lit overhead orbs and menu items like fried organic chicken with homemade hot sauce butter—have quickly morphed the Pump Room into a hip spot for locals.
Inside Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel Chicago, the Italian-themed filini bar and restaurant is headed by former Le Bernadin chef Christian Fantoni. With white, shimmery tiles behind the first-floor bar and LED lights underneath the glass tabletops, it’s more Vegas than Chicago. The cocktails, however, are inspired by Old World Italy, with offerings like the Negroni, Grappacello and Bellini. Fresh herbs are used for such drinks as Thyme for Fizz (thyme) and La Basilica (basil), and for others, it’s a hybrid dessert like The Witch, which merges limoncello, honey and green tea.
For a look at Chicago’s evolution, grab a seat by the window at Henri, across the street from Millennium Park on South Michigan Avenue, and gaze out at the Frank Gehry-designed band shell, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion.
Opened in 2010, Henri’s bartenders use gadgets like a cold smoker, and ingredients like honey sourced from downtown-Chicago rooftop beehives.
Mixologist Clint Rogers pushes the envelope, as most flock to Henri for its contemporary French-inspired menu. “Some of the best cocktail programs in the city are connected to restaurants,” he says.