When you go out for an adult libation in Chicago, you take part in a kind of living history; this city and its drinking culture have been enthusiastically intertwined for centuries. Today’s modern Chicago is enjoying a new golden age of cocktails and beer, coupled with a robust coffee culture fueling the work of the city’s top bartenders and brewers. Crossover and fraternization is inevitable.
We’ve explored Chicago’s world-leading coffee beer scene previously on Sprudge, but what of the cocktail bar? Turns out there’s plenty of coffee cocktails to drink in this town. I recently scoured Chicago, from my favorite haunts to neighborhoods I usually avoid, to find out more about how some of the city’s best bartenders are incorporating coffee into their menus and mise. Here’s five of my favorites.
Lost Lake — “Ripples On An Evaporated Lake” by Paul McGee
Tiki drinks are huge right now in Chicago, a throwback to simpler times and easy drinking with a much-loved tiny umbrella. Beverage Director and Partner at Lost Lake, Paul McGee has been in the cocktail game for 25 years and helped spark the tiki revival in Chicago. The menu he has created is balanced, offering a variety of options and flavors beyond the simple tiki fruit bomb (although you can definitely get a fruity drink here). McGee’s “Evaporated Lake” comes from the school of tiki, but it’s not fruit forward in the slightest, incorporating the classic Italian bitter liqueur Cynar alongside Chicago local distillery Letherbee‘s riff on Fernet.
The combination of La Colombe cold brew with coconut juice creates a smooth flavor that never feels too heavy. An added surprise is chewing on one of the bean garnishes, helping up the coffee flavor without going overboard.
1 ounce La Colombe cold brew
2 ounces Parce 8 rum
1 ounce Owen + Alchemy #59
1/4 ounce Letherbee Fernet
1/4 ounce Cynar
1/4 ounce demerara simple syrup
Trencherman — “Wake & Bake” by Pablo Mata
Restaurant coffee is getting better in Chicago and the Trenchermen in Wicker Park is helping lead the way. Each month, Trenchermen highlights a different coffee roaster and offers a pour-over and specialty baked item pairing to compliment the coffee during brunch. The Wake & Bake, crafted by head bartender Pablo Mata, keeps its ingredients simple and balanced, highlighting a slow dripper cold brew from Chicago-by-way-of-Istanbul roaster Four Letter Word. The result is a gentle kind of buzz befitting the drink’s name, ideally paired with weekend brunch on sunny day.
1 1/2 ounces Four Letter Word cold brew
1 ounce Tia Maria
1 ounce Kringe Kreme
Shaken and strained
The Dawson — “Marooned On Coffee Island” by Harrison Ginsberg
Located just north of the ever expanding restaurant row and Fulton Market area of Chicago is The Dawson. On paper this seems like a complex drink, but head bartender Harrison Ginsberg spins it deftly into something balanced and restrained. With its rum base and dash of mole bitters, the drink evokes more tiki, using Stumptown’s smooth, creamy cold brew as an accent alongside real whipping cream.
2 ounces Stumptown cold brew
1 ounce Hamilton Gold rum
1 ounce Mt. Gay Black Barrel rum
Dash Xocolatl Mole bitters
Shaken and strained
1/2 ounce fresh whipping cream
Grated cinnamon to garnish
Bascule Wine Bar — “Coffee Cocktail For Scott” by Ian Pfeiffer
Bartender Ian Pfeiffer is no stranger to experimenting with cocktails and coffee, having previously created Acadia’s American Corretto. Now at Bascule Wine Bar in historic University Village, Pfeiffer has come up with another coffee cocktail to help you shake off the morning cobwebs (or put some fresh ones on). There’s not enough drink quite like this one on the list, which requires steeping coffee in coconut juice overnight to create a kind of “coconut cold brew.” You’re right to think this odd, but the result is a nice balance that is not overtly sweet or heavy. Pfeiffer tops the cocktail with Lion Stout beer, yet the drink is still refreshing and light. Cocktails are magic.
1 1/2 ounces Marie Duffau Napoleon armagnac
1 ounce egg white
1 ounce I Have A Bean coffee and coconut cold brew
1/2 ounce lemon juice
1/4 ounce mole syrup
Shaken and strained
2 ounces Lion Stout top
Dusek’s — “Bardstown Special” by Greg Butera
A cup of coffee in the morning is essential, regardless of circumstance. For those looking for a little something extra, I recommend the Bardstown Special at Dusek’s in Pilsen. This drink is deceptively simple, and was created by beverage director Greg Butera as a nod to the city of Bardstown, Kentucky, a historic bourbon producing place. Great in the morning or whenever, really, and featuring the “A Love Supreme” blend from Chicago’s Dark Matter Coffee.
2 ounces maple bourbon cream (Very Old Barton bourbon, Madagascar vanilla, cinnamon demerara, salt, cream, maple syrup)
3 ounces Dark Matter Coffee
Topped as desired Chantilly cream (cream, vanilla paste, sugar)