It’s no secret that I’m smitten on our dear Derby City, and I don’t plan on uprooting my bourbon-living roots anytime soon. However, if there’s anywhere where the brisk, Midwestern winds could seduce this barkeep, it’s the Windy City itself. Despite the freezing temperatures this time of year, and the gusts of piercing wind roaring off Lake Michigan, I spent several days this past week rekindling my love affair with Chicago. My friends and I made the five-hour journey back home Friday night with our hearts full and our bodies ravaged by Malort (we’ll delve into this further, so stay tuned), reminiscing about the debauchery that was had and the incredible bar/restaurant concepts we were lucky enough to stumble into this week. When one embarks on such fun few days in a larger city, it’s hard not to wonder, could Louisville learn a thing or two?
Over the summer, on my last trek to Chi-Town, my friend Megan, a former Chicago resident, told me not to miss the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel. “Hmmm, can’t say I’m really trying to hop up on an elliptical while I’m vacationing,” I said suspiciously. Megan assured me that it wasn’t a gym and to trust her. Trust her, we did and soon found out that the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel is a swanky, boutique hotel equipped with an old-fashioned game room (open to the public) just beyond the lobby that houses a bocce ball court, shuffleboard, billiards, a secret cigar room beyond what seems like a trap door and a sprawling bar fostering delectable cocktails and bar bites. During the warmer months, it also boasts a rooftop bar with views of Millennium Park and Lake Michigan. Dimly lit with ornately-carved cherry wood walls and stained-glass windows, it feels as though one could look down at their shuffleboard game and turn around to find Al Capone encircled by billowing cigar smoke. While Louisville isn’t void of the modern technology-ridden game room, I can’t think of a place where I can sip on a frozen mezcal cocktail and play a round of bocce ball. Anyone?
Another new Chicago fave that had me itching for a similar concept in Louisville is Bitter Pops, a craft beer tasting room in the Lakeview neighborhood that almost presents as a Louisville Beer Store on steroids. With beers, cocktail mixers, canned cocktails/wines, worldly shrubs and bitters, delivery service and a glorious tasting room, a brew aficionado could spend a good chunk of an afternoon perusing the shelves of Bitter Pops. Beyond the beer selection, which included the delightfulness of Make America Juicy Again from Heretic Brewing and a large Dirty Martini in a can from Vitani, Bitter Pops is dog-friendly, takes Polaroid photos of their four-legged guests for the entryway wall and donates a portion of their proceeds to Peace for Pits rescue organization. Excuse me while I cry drunken tears of adoration into my Taco Cat Kettle Sour Ale.
Perhaps my favorite new Windy City pub, suggested by the beertendress at Bitter Pops, is the fantastically divey Augie’s Booze and Schmooze, located on a humble, discreet corner in Lincoln Park. What sets this dated dive apart, however, is its enthusiasm for the holidays. As the gal from Bitter Pops told us, “It looks like Christmas threw up,” and she wasn’t wrong. Draped floor to ceiling in lights, gaudy décor, Christmas villages, fake snow, a train that travels around the bar… the list goes on. Augie’s is the kind of dive that, upon arrival, almost every regular at the bar will stop in their tracks, turn around and give you the up and down. But, if you can make it through the initial awkwardness of stepping into their beloved territory, you’ll be doing shots together in no time. Same goes for the bartender, Jamie, who greeted us with promptness, but not necessarily friendliness. Less than 45 minutes later, she was lining up some Chicago Handshakes for the lot of us on the house.
What is a Chicago Handshake, you ask?
It’s a boilermaker (beer and shot combination) of Malort (a wormwood liqueur produced by the Jeppson Co. of Chicago) and a Schlitz (what I consider Milwaukee’s PBR). Malort is not delicious, might I add. Schlitz is not the beer of my dreams. But did I have a damn good time befriending regulars and downing them for the remainder of the evening? You’re damn right I did. I love Chicago, but we probably need a Louisville Handshake, right? I’m on it.