Just when I thought the gincident was over & done with… Monday, Apr 2 2012 

Today I had the pleasure of catching up with one of my favorite WBEZ-ers, who asked if I’d caught The Afternoon Shift last week during which the now infamous gincident was discussed.

I just listened (tune in around 40:50 here), and am amazed anew regarding the enormous response to this little essay.

Here’s the roll-call on who’s weighed in, which has grown even since my own attempt to close the issue was posted last weekend: Time Out Chicago’s dining critic, The Reader’s dining critic, Grub Street, LTHForum, bartender Paul McGee, the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Magazine and, now, WBEZ.

In related news, hits to this humble little blog have skyrocketed. Which probably means I need to start updating it more regularly. More soon. (And I promise it won’t be gincident-related.)

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.

Amaro, amaro, I love you, amaro Friday, Mar 9 2012 

emptiness: noted

As is evident from this week’s Time Out Chicago, my latest obsession is amaro. It’s everywhere in Chicago right now — including my home bar.

Thinking back, I’m guessing my first introduction to the stuff was with Cynar a few years back. I’d seen it with increasing frequency at bars and restaurants, but had no idea how to pronounce it (“chee-nar,” btw) and no idea why anyone would want to sip booze whose primary ingredient, as indicated by its label, is artichoke.

Until I tried it.

Now, I’m a total convert. I’ve taken to sipping Cynar in proper Italian fashion: after dinner, chilled or with an ice cube, as a digestif.

Perhaps all this amari is the reason I’ve been dying to return to Italy ASAP. How amazing would it be to sip a little glass of amaro at some little corner cafe in Venice this summer? For now, it’ll have to be the front porch.

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