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Look Inside Wirtz Beverage's New Spirits' Lab: The Alchemy Room

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The area can be used for lectures or be configured for events
The area can be used for lectures or be configured for events

[Photo: Jason Little]

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. Other times you want to get away to a quieter place where you can not only get behind the bar and make a few drinks, but you may also be able to cook up a meal. All in the name of experimentation. That's the idea behind the Alchemy Room at Wirtz Beverage's new mammoth office and warehouse facility in Cicero.

The 4,000 square-foot space, capable of holding 110 people, was built out with a 38-foot long, black honed granite-topped bar with 18 seats, a gorgeous professional kitchen complete with a multi-bottle wine fridge, 150-inch LED screen comprising nine individual screens, movable tables to set up for lectures, classes or other events, state-of-the-art multimedia system controlled by a couple of iPads and walls of glass-fronted wood-encased cabinets that hold nearly every spirit that Wirtz distributes.

While the room serves many purposes, it really, at the end of the day, is Wirtz Beverage development manager's Eric Hay's playground. At his disposal, Hay, who has worked at Duchamp, Bar DeVille and Bangers & Lace, has countless ingredients and bottles to tinker with, including Woodford Reserve, Bulleit, Oban, Macallan, Stoli, Goose Island, Hangar One, Buffalo Trace and more.

The Alchemy Room, Hay said, gives their restaurant and bar customers the opportunity to shuttle staff out to Cicero to develop a bar program for a soon-to-open spot that may not be functional; Hay also offers bartending training. With the full working kitchen, chefs can come out to work on new menu items while their beverage manager or Hay can work on cocktail pairings. Wirtz can also use the space to train their sales team on new products or offer it up for suppliers to launch new products, like they'll do with Bombay Sapphire East, a gin infused with lemongrass and peppercorn, this June.

They'll also hold wine tasting functions with various tasting stations set up around the room. Recently, Wirtz chairman Rocky Wirtz hosted an event for company executives and chef Paul Virant (Vie, Perennial Virant) prepared a meal while Mike Page, the bar director at Vie, paired drinks. At last check, other restaurants on deck to hit the Alchemy Room include Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba and Mon Ami Gabi.

Eater popped by to spend some time on a recent Sunday with Hay just days after the facility officially opened; it was so new that the 500,000 square-foot warehouse was empty save the CostCo-like shelving units awaiting its stock. Hay broke in the bar by mixing up a few cocktails, including proper Mint Juleps with W.L. Weller 7-year special reserve bourbon, fresh mint and Demerara syrup; an Old Fashioned with Bulleit, bitters and essential oils; and the Bee's Knees with Martin Miller's Westbourne Strength London Dry Gin, honey syrup and fresh lemon juice; he also made a version with fresh strawberry. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Perennial Virant

1800 North Lincoln Avenue, Chicago, IL 60614 312 981 7070 Visit Website

Mon Ami Gabi

2300 North Lincoln Park West, , IL 60614 (773) 348-8886 Visit Website