“There are surprises in every cocktail!” exclaims Vlad Novikov, director of cocktails and culture for The Peninsula’s new globally-inspired rooftop lounge Z Bar, slated to debut mid-June on the sixth floor of the Magnificent Mile hotel. Think, 24-karat gold flakes suspended in ice chilling in an Elijah Craig 18-year-old bourbon-fortified Manhattan Royale that a server will garnish table-side with black truffle bitters. For sizable groups there’s “Disco Fever,” a large-format libation made from vodka, mandarine, passion fruit, and lemon, topped with a Champagne float and served in an actual disco ball.
Named after Maria Zec, The Peninsula’s first female general manager who took on the role in 2002, Z Bar hinges on Novikov’s blend of playful intoxicants—some riffs on classics, other totally new creations—often built from unsung ingredients with whimsical presentations.
Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, Novikov moved to Chicago at age five, and says that his interest in cocktails began at a young age, learning early on about the diversity in beverage cultures and customs around the globe. While some may have sampled his tipples around the city at places like speciality drinks den Elixir and arcade bar Replay, both in Andersonville (Novikov previously oversaw beverage programs for LKH Management), he explains that “Z Bar is a culmination of learning” for him, and that his newest liquid engagement “represents the best of everything that came before.”
International design firm Yabu Pushelberg conceived of The Peninsula’s 131-seat contemporary space that’s equipped with a seasonal terrace. Soon patrons will be able to sit on that terrace and suck down drinks spiked with the Greek liquor mastiha (flavored with the aromatic resin of the mastic tree), which Novikov blends with a Greek-type of brandy called tsipouro, plus lemon verbena. He garnishes the dram with green baby Japanese wakamono peaches that look like chubby olives. Another less common liquor future patrons will encounter is aquavit. He marries the savory Scandinavian spirit with local Letherbee besk, lemon, and pear liqueur “for a vegetal-meets-fruity and bittersweet cocktail.” Meanwhile, the tropical fruit laced “Ba-Daq Attack” incorporates three Caribbean rums, plus mango, banana, and lime. The drink is decorated with Australian finger limes, which many consider the caviar of fruit.
Procuring product from near and far, Novikov looked to San Francisco to source small-batch bitters from Bitter Queens, and he was so taken with the maker’s tobacco barrel-aged variety that he bought the company’s entire supply. And that flavor enhancer, which channels notes of clove, can be found in his subtly-spiced old fashioned.
Beyond catchy presentations involving gold flakes and a sparkling disco ball, drinks like the “Pappersflygpan” or “PFP” combines dill-infused aquavit, pear liqueur, Letherbee besk, and a mini paper plane garnish.
And while Novikov’s curious worldly elixirs are meant to complement chef Toni Robertson’s equally diverse slate of booze-friendly bites, the barman adds that, “[a]t Z Bar, it’s also how the vibe and music fits with the cuisine and cocktails.” Expect electric beats and house music by producers and musicians from Germany to Korea to Chicago.