We had a very nice session here last week before a dinner up the street at Badou Senegalese Cuisine
I like the vibe of the place a lot. It's comfortably rustic with only a minimal touch of polish. It has a lived-in feel but it's not shabby. The interior is mostly dark gray with some dim zone lighting. There are a few tables throughout the room, and a long bar along the west wall that's flanked by about a dozen stools with backs.
I arrived when they opened at 5 and it being a weeknight, by the time I left at 7, it was still pretty mellow. The engine of this place is its bartender and co-owner Cody Modeer (along with co-owner Anne Carlson), an L.A. native who used to run the bar at In Fine Spirits after Benjamin Schiller departed for the Boka Group. Before then, Cody spent some time working under Schiller and it really shows in his technique and attention to detail. Our drinks were delicious and well-balanced across the board.
The cocktail menu is pretty extensive, with over 2-dozen offerings. There are classics and contemporary libations, as well. In addition to listing each drink's contents, the menu also provides the approximate year of each drink's origination. During our session, between the drinks I ordered and the ones I tasted (ordered by my companions), I tried well over a half-dozen of them. My 2 favorites were Cody's take on the classic Vieux Carre (rye, cognac, vermouth, benedictine, bitters) and the Dead Meadow (Leopold Brothers apple whiskey, Buffalo Trace, Nocino liqueur, bitters). This is a drink that Cody had made for me a couple years back at In Fine Spirits. At that time, it didn't really sing for me, though. I thought some freshly expressed orange oil got in the way of the apple. However, the version I had the other night at Ward Eight was nothing short of fantastic. It struck a perfect balance between sweet and boozy. Other cocktails, like the Boulevardier, Manhattan, Corpse Reviver #2, Gimlet, Old Fashioned and Side Car were all very tasty, well-balanced and well-crafted.
One of my companions paid the bill so I'm not entirely certain if some snacks we tried were comped or not. In any case, the Za'atar Spiced Marcona Almonds and the Marinated Olives were tasty and made nice accompaniments for our drinks. The food menu is less extensive than the drink menu and offers a nice-looking assortment of bar snacks, including some cheeses, charcuterie and sandwiches. I'm sure I'll be trying more of these items in the future.
The bottom line is that Ward Eight is the real deal. It's a serious bar with drinks that reflect a substantial knowledge of -- and sincere appreciation for -- cocktail culture. As much as Chicago is coming on line with its cocktail scene, bars like Ward Eight are just too hard to find. It's a great addition to the scene and we're lucky to have it.
If I asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said faster horses --Henry Ford
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