June 14, 2011 / 9:45 AM / 8 years ago

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

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.

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

Consider, for example, Chicago's original speakeasy nouveau, The Violet Hour (www.theviolethour.com).

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 (www.sepiachicago.com) 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 (thedrchicago.com/bar), 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.

But the hottest seat to score right now is at lauded chef Grant Achatz's new restaurant, Next and its companion bar, The Aviary (theaviarychicago.com).

This is no place to order a slapdash vodka-tonic: every elaborate concoction, like the black truffle infused Negroni, is carefully choreographed.

RECIPE: “Juliet and Romeo,” courtesy of The Violet Hour: a clean, cool cocktail — perfect for sultry summer days.

3 cucumber slices

3 mint sprigs

Tiny pinch of salt

2 ounces Beefeater gin

0.75 ounce fresh lime juice

0.75 ounce simple syrup

3 drops rose water

3 drops Angostura bitters

In a cocktail shaker, muddle cucumber, mint and pinch of salt. Add rest of ingredients. Let sit for 30 seconds. Add ice, shake, and strain into a coupe glass. Strain.

Garnish with one floating mint leaf and one drop of rose water on top of the leaf, and three more drops of Angostura on the surface of the drink.

(Kara Newman is the author of "Spice & Ice: 60 tongue-tingling cocktails," available ( here). The opinions expressed are her own.

Editing by Peter Myers

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