I don't want to spew too much vitriol at Lauren Viera for her comically myopic perspective on the Chicago cocktail scene. So, I'll try another tack.
For me, the cocktail culture encompasses many variables—the most important being the social rapport a professional bartender establishes with the patrons at the bar. Personally, I'll take a classic cocktail made with standard shit at a place where you can interact with a bartender that is sincerely interested in talking cocktail shop with you any day over a hot new joint carrying 69 different old tom gins you’ve never heard of. The interplay between bartender and customer, in my mind, cannot be minimized. If there’s one thing this novice cocktail-er has learned is that any craft cocktail bartender who is truly invested in their art loves more than anything to share their knowledge and passion with an enthusiastic customer across the bar. Trix and I have learned so much from our great barmen across the city and have been lucky enough to be the recipients of their knowledge, creativity, and first-class hospitality on more bleary-eyed evenings than I care to admit. And on this front, Chicago takes a back seat to no one.
That said, I’ve tried several "cutting edge" cocktail bars in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York, and if you were to ask me my favorite three cocktail bars anywhere, they would be the Velvet Tango Room
in Cleveland, Sun Liquor Lounge
in Seattle, and Bryant's Cocktail Lounge
in Milwaukee. Not one of them falls in those coastal markets.
Viera’s obsession with details that ultimately don’t matter--a cocktail bar’s hardware or its gin to whiskey ratio (the G2W factor) completely misses the point.
BTW, Scofflaw, for a new operation, totally kicks ass. Attention to detail is evident at almost every turn. It could be the most comfortable setting I know for cocktails anywhere- certainly in Chicago. A cool and very accessible staff, wonderful natural lighting, comfortable seats, good vittles, and not least of all, high quality and thoughtful drinks. I also love the fact that Scofflaw commonly draws in an eclectic and fun-lovin’ crowd. The times I've been there, I've have always left having gladly met the patrons seated around me.
Danny Shapiro is a great friend of mine which makes me even more proud to be able to say that he is also one of the most knowledgeable people I know when it comes to anything involving the craft cocktail (that and dick jokes). He is a true student of the spirits world and is forever trying to accumulate knowledge on all things cocktail-related, both from literature and from his many highly-informed peers in Chicago’s bartending circles. Additionally, he is a cool (LA Kewl!) guy and is on my extreme shortlist of people you’d want to share a laugh with over a drink.
Also, if you go to Scofflaw and get the munchies, try Micky’s “Guapachoza” sandwich. It’ll solve all your problems.
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