There are a number of places for food and drinks inside the gorgeously
renovated Chicago Athletic Association
. Most are from Land and Sea Dept.
, including Milk Room, an 8-seat bar housed in a part of the building that purportedly used to be a speakeasy. I went last night and had an excellent, albeit pricey time.
To get in, you're going to want to buy tickets on the website.* They're $50 and, as with all Tock participants, the money goes towards the bill. Your ticket entitles you to a seat for two hours. The room is small, dark, and surprisingly in light of the amount of noise just outside the door, quiet. Everyone sits at the bar and gets all the attention from the bartender they'd like.*They do occasionally take walk-ins
Paul McGee runs the beverage program for all Land and Sea Dept. restaurants in the building, but I was told by Stephen, our very skilled, knowledgeable and friendly bartender, that McGree isn't often behind the bar.
Upon arriving, we were presented with a bamboo, a cocktail I'd never heard of. It's a low-alcohol slightly bitter concoction that served to set the mood (free well-made drink!) and clear the palate for the drinks to come. The menu includes a handful of snacks to choose from, a page with about 8 or 10 cocktails, and several pages of bottles available to sample by the ounce, many of which are incredibly rare.
I started off with a Vieux Carré, a 1930s New Orleans cocktail. I can't offer anything by way of comparison because I hadn't had one or even heard of it before last night, but it was an exceptional drink and a good start to the evening. For my second drink, I ordered a Last Word. To be clear: you can order absolutely any cocktail you want. With my permission, Stephen subbed in Chartreuse VEP for regular Chartreuse and then gave me the very best version of one of my favorite cocktails. For my third and final drink, I asked for something with bourbon that I haven't had before. Stephen asked if I minded absinthe and when I said no, he introduced me to an Improved Whiskey Cocktail, an 1880s drink from Jerry Thomas’ Bartenders Guide.
In addition to my drinks, I was able to try a couple of my neighbors' orders. My friend's sazerac was the best either of us have had and his Port of Spain (another selection on the menu) was a little sweet but still perfectly balanced and delicious. LTHer core1521, who took our two extra tickets, took advantage of Milk Room's extensive campari collection, getting an ounce pour of the current iteration and a bottle from the 1940s. The similarities were clear, but these were two very different beverages, with the modern version coming across like a kiddie version of the bitter WWII-era spirit.
Next time I go to Milk Room, I think I'll follow core1521's lead and do some more extensive exploration. That said, it's going to be a while before I return despite the great vibe, great service, and stellar drinks. The reason: price. My three drinks came in at $93 plus tax plus a deserved mandatory 20% service. My Vieux Carré was $45 and my other two were $24 apiece. I didn't feel like I overpaid at all - the drinks were great and very strong - I just don't spend that kind of money on booze all that often. If dropping in for one $30 drink were an option, I'd get back a lot sooner, but that's not the experience they're going for and given how hard it is to get tickets at a decent time, there's no reason for them to change.
12 S. Michigan Ave, 2nd Floorwww.milkroomchicago.com