The Spirited Traveller: Chicago, the thinking drinker's town

Tue Jun 14, 2011 5:42am EDT
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By Kara Newman

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - History is a key part of enjoying a cocktail in the Windy City, so whether celebrating the bootlegging reign of Al Capone, or gentler pre-Prohibition days, expect a dose of nostalgia with your drink.

Consider, for example, Chicago's original speakeasy nouveau, The Violet Hour (

Inside this Wicker Park bar the rules are clear: no cellphones, no standing. Drinks on the menu are as well-ordered as the guests, segregated by spirit.

Their "Juliet & Romeo" cocktail (Beefeater gin, cucumber, mint, rosewater) has racked up accolades.

Sepia ( celebrates a slightly earlier period of history. Built in a space that once housed an 1890s print shop, it features Art Nouveau décor. The menus, too, are rustic and rooted in tradition, focusing on artisan growers and sustainable practices.

Look for cocktails based on the cool classics, but given an intricate modern twist: an Old Fashioned becomes a Cocoa Old Fashioned, with cocoa-nib infused rye whiskey and sherry vanilla bitter; a Moscow Mule morphs into a Sepia Mule made with ginger-infused organic vodka.

Under the eye of chief mixologist Charles Joly, The Drawing Room (, attached to the Le Passage nightclub in downtown Chicago is known for precise technique, and perfectly executed historic and literary-inspired elixirs.

Weary business travellers who prefer not to leave hotel environs can get their dose of Belle Epoque history at Le Bar (here) inside the Sofitel Chicago Water Tower. Absinthe-based drinks are featured in this North Side venue.   Continued...

<p>The Tribune Tower in Chicago, April 2, 2007.REUTERS/John Gress</p>