Revolutionary Cocktail Lounges

At these new bars, you can drink like the founding fathers.


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Although evidence of the cocktail as we know it today was not recorded in America until the early 1800s, bar ambiances and menus during the Revolutionary War (1775–1783) and other pre-Prohibition years are inspiration for two brand-new cocktail lounges.

At City Tavern, which opened in Chicago’s South Loop in June 2012, mixologist and cocktail consultant Peter Vestinos added décor touches from the 18th century, like heavystained woods, soft lighting, blue tones and a long, narrow bar. Also noticeable is the absence of TVs. (“It’s not about having other distractions in the room, such as televisions,” he says, “but more about enjoying each other’s company.”) Drinks rely upon ingredients that pre-date modern times, such as scalding-hot clarified milk; its viscosity mingles perfectly with a trio of rums, nutmeg, clove, peppercorn and orange peel in the Milk Punch. Fish Bowl Punch (developed in Philadelphia in 1732) is a nod to the punch-bowl recipes brought over from England. Beer, Sherry and ciders—popular early-American alcoholic beverages—figure prominently on the menu.

The penny-tiled floor and high-end well liquors at Philadelphia’s Hop Sing Laundromat are the result of owner Lêe’s—who wished to only be mentioned by his first name—70-day road trip to craft-cocktail bars in 48 states. The bar features cocktails with stories that trace back to early America. This includes the Henry “Box” Brown, an ode to a 19th century slave from Virginia who arranged to have himself shipped in a wooden crate to abolitionists in Philadelphia, and the Nevermore, named for a line in Edgar Allan Poe’s famed poem “The Raven,” penned in 1845 (and especially relevant since Poe once lived a mile away from the bar). Since opening in May, rarely are modern ingredients like sugar and store-bought juices used. Instead, fruit is squeezed to order via manual juicers. “All of the drinks are named after significant moments in American history,” says Lêe. 

Henry "Box" Brown

Recipe courtesy Lêe, owner of Hop Sing Laundromat, Philadelphia

This drink—named after a Virginia slave who escaped in 19th century by mailing himself in a wooden crate to Philadelphia abolitionists—features three deliciously simple ingredients.

2½ ounces El Dorado 15 Year Old Special Reserve
3¼ ounces fresh-squeezed red-grape juice
2 red grapes, for garnish

Combine the first 2 ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Add five large ice cubes and shake vigorously for 8–10 seconds. Strain the mixture into a double Old-Fashioned glass filled with ice (or a single large ice cube). Garnish with grapes.

Henry "Box" Brown at Hop Sing Laundromat ©2012 Robert Neroni Photo Courtesy Hop Sing Laundromat Nevermore

Recipe courtesy Lêe, owner of Hop Sing Laundromat, Philadelphia

Named after a line in the poem “The Raven,” by Edgar Allan Poe, this drink is ostentatiously topped with a sweet whipped cream. Poe once lived just 1 mile from Hop Sing Laundromat.

1 ounce Smooth Ambler Greenbrier Gin (80 Proof)
1 ounce brewed Vietnamese coffee (or espresso)
1 ounce Patrón Citrónge
Lemon peel, for oils
Whipped cream, for topping

Combine the first 3 ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously and strain mixture into a coupe glass. Hold the lemon peel over the drink, and fold it in half to express its oils, then discard the peel. Top the drink off with a layer of cream and serve.

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