City of Angels…& rum Wednesday, Mar 28 2012 

vintage Fox-Land Rum ad

A bartender I trust recently told me that “rum is really big in LA. right now.”

I’m headed to the left coast tomorrow and I’m excited to check out a few bars while there. So far, CaƱa Rum Bar comes recommended, and is conveniently located less than a mile from the hotel. Any others not to be missed?

The great Scofflaw kerfuffle Saturday, Mar 24 2012 

This week’s Chicago Reader features an essay I wrote titled “Mother’s Ruin” (gin’s infamous nickname), which addresses the fact that Chicago’s craft-cocktail trends have always been a handful of years behind those of the coastal cities. The thesis is unfortunately pegged to the opening of a great little bar in Logan Square called Scofflaw.

A trio of Scofflaw's gin drinks. (Andrea Bauer/Chicago Reader)

I say “unfortunate” because I like Scofflaw. I’ve been there twice now, and the drinks are solid. But it plays a necessary scapegoat in my argument: Scofflaw calls itself “gin-centric” — a novel concept for Chicago, as we don’t yet have any bars that dare to serve just one spirit — yet it’s not exclusively gin, and doesn’t really offer more gin drinks than the typical bar. Which, for gin-obsessed folks like me, is a bit of a let down for reasons too idiosyncratic for anyone to understand, based on the onslaught of tomato-throwing I’ve seen on the comment boards. And Time Out Chicago, penned by someone who is otherwise a lovely person. And Grub Street. And LTHForum.

For anyone who knows me well or reads this blog, it’s no secret that I am a self-described gin booster. Opposite the all-encompassing home bar in my living room, there is a separate and holy gin bar — an odd little antique curio cabinet emptied of its contents in order to make way for bottles of London dry, Old Tom and Genever, a collection of gin more than two-dozen bottles strong. I put gin on a pedestal, and gin bars, such as New York’s Madam Geneva (which I visited a few years back), are my dream come true.

With the Reader’s Bars Issue on the horizon, I pitched a related essay to the editor, using Scofflaw as a jumping-off point to talk about how and why Chicago has historically not taken as many risks with bar concepts, which is odd given that we have enormous talent in our pool of bartenders and proprietors. I had an engaging sit-down conversation with the bar’s proprietor, and he complimented my questions and answered them thoughtfully, knowing that ultimately, my article hinged on a critique of his concept — a concept I love, and wish was pushed further.

The essay was held a week and ran on its own as a two-page spread, likely drawing much more attention than had it run in the midst of a multi-page roundup of local watering holes. And somehow, my argument — that Chicago needs to take more risks, that local drinkers are ready for headier concepts — has been twisted into the perception that I hate Chicago’s drinking scene and/or want it to be an exact replica of New York City’s.

Which is obviously not true. There is a reason I no longer live in New York. There is a reason I’ve chosen to write about and embrace Chicago’s cocktail scene. There is a reason I will continue to support bars like Scofflaw, even if I’m a little bummed there isn’t a Madam Geneva down the street. And there is a reason that, despite being a bit gunshy after this gincident (amazing noun coined by a friend), I will continue to put my byline out there — even if it brings some assholes out of the woodwork — to promote conversation and, one hopes, foster a more informed and colorful community of spirits patrons in the long run.

And the nominees are… Tuesday, Mar 20 2012 

Official nominations for the 2012 James Beard Foundation awards were announced late yesterday evening, and while I usually don’t pay much attention unless a favorite Chicago restaurant has made the list, this year is different for one reason: cocktails.

The Aviary's "porthole" cocktail glassware. (Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune)

This year, the Beards added a category to recognize one venue with excellent achievement in cocktails and spirits — essentially, the nation’s best bar. (Previously there had been one award each for Outstanding Wine Program and Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits professional; everything else is food-driven.) It’s called Outstanding Bar Program, it’s sponsored by Campari, and it’s meant to award “a restaurant that displays and encourages excellence in cocktail, spirit, and/or beer service through a well-presented drink list, a knowledgeable staff, and efforts to educate customers about beverages.”

Of course, there are no restaurants nominated in this category — only bars.

Among the five nominations are The Aviary (whose gorgeous, custom cocktail glassware is pictured above) and The Violet Hour — both no-brainers, and I’d have been shocked if neither made the list. (I had the pleasure of reporting heavily on The Aviary in anticipation of its opening last year; here & here). I am pleased as punch that Chicago is on the map with two nominations — the same number as New York, by the way (Pegu Club and PTD). San Francisco’s Bar Agricole rounds out the nominations for the best bar in the country according to Beard, and winners are announced May 7.

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