There are precious few ways left to impress friends with cocktail cred in Chicago. Many people know way too much about bourbon, may have a favorite mezcal or an entire cabinet full of artisanal bitters too. So how do you get an edge? Short of being a regular at a fancypants bar where every bartender on staff knows you by name, the easiest way to out-hipster your friends (and be rewarded with a delicious cocktail at the same time) is to be acutely aware of the bars in Chicago that serve notable off-menu drinks. Here are eight of the best, listed at bars from north to south.Read More
8 Off-Menu Secret Cocktails to Try in Chicago
The best drinks may be the ones you don’t know about
DMK Burger Bar — Gringo Michelada
Attractive jet-setter friends may not be impressed by ordering the gringo michelada at Lakeview’s DMK Burger Bar, but don’t let that stop you. Though the drink is no longer on the menu, simply ask for it and be rewarded with a delicious, spicy-salty-sour mix of beer, bloody mary mix, and lime juice.
The Whistler — Oaxacan Old Fashioned
Logan Square’s laid-back, unpretentious, cover-less cocktail bar has made plenty of best-of lists simply on the strength of its mixology staff, so whatever you order there, you’ll probably be satisfied. But if you’re looking for something special, try ordering the off-menu Oaxacan old fashioned, a riff on the classic cocktail made with mezcal, tequila, and agave.
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The Violet Hour — El Topo and Rangoon Fizz
One of the best things about Wicker Park’s The Violet Hour is that the mixologists there seem to have a perfect memory of every cocktail that’s ever been on the menu. This means that there’s an endless backlog of craft cocktails to choose from. Favorites include the mezcal-heavy “El Topo,” and the refreshing “Rangoon Fizz.”
Broken Shaker — Cocoa Puff Old Fashioned
Don’t ever overlook hotel bars — especially this award-winning Miami import at Freehand Chicago in River North. Their bartenders are open, friendly, and willing to create bespoke cocktails, and the off-menu Cocoa Puff old fashioned is not to be missed. It’s a crowd favorite, and despite its name, it’s not overly cloying or sweet.
The Dawson — Daily Dram
The Dawson, Billy Lawless’ massive restaurant and bar across the street from the Grand Blue Line station and steps from the main Fulton Market strip, features a long list of craft cocktails on its menu. Adventurous drinkers, however, may want to ask their server for the Dr. Bombay shot — a unique creation courtesy of former beverage director Annnemarie Sagoi, who makes no apologies for her love of Jell-O shots and has done her best to prove that they're not just for trashy college parties anymore. The “Daily Dram” shot changes daily, and previous favorites have included deconstructed margarita Jell-O shots, as well as shots featuring the nuanced flavors of a Pimm's cup.
Sable Kitchen & Bar — Southside Gimlet
Though Sable Kitchen & Bar is very solidly located in the Near North, they pay tribute to the South Side with one of their secret off-menu drinks. The Southside gimlet packs a punch — it’s very heavy on the mint flavors — but on a hot day in Chicago, few things are more refreshing.
Three Dots and a Dash — Poipu Beach Boogie Board
Though River North’s subterranean tiki destination changes its menu often, the bartenders pride themselves on ability to make hundreds of off-menu drinks — so if there’s a favorite from a past menu, chances are they’ll help you out. Of particular note is the “Poipu Beach Boogie Board,” a high-octane mix of rye, overproof rum, lemon, pineapple, grenadine, guava, and maraschino.
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CH Distillery & Cocktail Bar — Chili Vodka
Though it may be overshadowed at times by Fulton Market competitors, CH Distillery is unique in that it’s Chicago’s first combination distillery and bar. They make their own spirits in-house, and if you ask very, very nicely, they might give you a shot of the chili vodka they make, infused with imported peppers from around the world. They also have tons of other spicy liquors on the menu proper, from a peppercorn vodka to a seven-chili amaro.