Chicago's culinary scene has impressed Julian Cox, the James Beard award-nominated bartender who announced in January that he was leaving Los Angeles to join Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises. LEYE is putting Cox through their corporate training program as he and Rich Melman's gang prepare to open the Paris Club revamp, il Porcellino. The decision to move wasn't an easy one for Cox.
"I surprised a lot of people, I sat on the news for a little while; almost a month," he said, adding that he hid the news from some colleagues, afraid of the bar industry's "thank you" in a form of a week-long bacchanalia.
LEYE won't commit to an opening date, but as early as next week, diners will feast on an Italian menu and drinkers will sip Cox's concoctions. Cox had visited the old Paris Club, and said the new space provides an infusion of modernity while preserving an old-school flavor. He's quite an acquisition for LEYE, as our colleagues at Eater L.A. wrote this of Cox: "Perhaps no one bartender has better expressed what it means to portray the city of Los Angeles in a glass...."
Cox is appreciative of such compliments, but he's just focused on making the best drinks possible and finding inspiration by visiting other bars and restaurants. He has already high praise of Queen Mary and The Office/Aviary. Do any of these spaces have a common thread that makes them uniquely Chicago?: "They all have fantastic drinks," Cox said. "I'm just happy to be here, but as for as Chicago to me, being here raises all of the stakes, it's such a great city."
Melman's job offer came as a surprise. Cox has been working on some L.A.-related projects when Melman offered him the opportunity. Il Porcellino represents Cox's first of hopefully many planned LEYE projects. He most recently worked as Fiscal Agent in L.A., but made a name for himself in other places, including Acabar.
Cox's drink list will be concise at il Porcellino, but he's not sharing much about specifics, as he wants the opening to be the big reveal. As the food's Italian, expect a Negroni, but the Italian theme won't affect the cocktail selection very much. And they're not focusing on a single spirit, like certain rum houses. That's not true to Cox's philosophy: "I like to take the emphasis away from the spirit, I wish I could do a menu and not put any spirits on it because I feel like it's more about the flavor profiles and trying to make those things beautiful and sing."
When describing his style, Cox called it a blend of modern and classic techniques, conjuring up visions of Bruce Lee and other decorated Martial Artists who have taken bits and pieces from a variety of disciplines.
Cox, right now, is focused on re-adjusting to the Midwest, where he lived for a spell as a child. He mentioned how Uber changed L.A.'s nightlife, as more people could bar hop without fear of drunken driving in the car-obsessed city that lacks proper public transportation. But besides lifestyle differences, there's also differences in produce, though Cox is quick to praise Midwest farmers, especially when it comes to growing tomatoes. But, for example, citrus tastes different. He uses a refractometer so he can ensure the right amount of sugar: "I definitely made some adjustments, things like ginger are a little less bright, a little less spicy."
Hopefully starting next week, Chicagoans can taste what all the Left Coast fuss is about. Check out the drink photos below.