We grew up in a midwest where artfully-crafted cocktails were something you only saw in old movies; kids drank beer, our dads drank scotch and water, and sensitive dipwicks liked Pina Coladas and taking walks in the rain. If there was a cocktail renaissance, we were at its exact antipode in our formative drinking years. But we also weren’t in Chicago yet, and we suspect there were places— The Cape Cod Room? Riccardo’s? Horwath’s? Bucket o’ Suds?— where the art of mixology had continued undisturbed, if not yet enlightened and hipsterized, from its Nick and Nora Charles heyday. So the first question we have about Lauren Viera’s broadside in this week’s Reader is, does her picture of a cocktail-deprived Chicago a few years ago, in which only the Matchbox knew what the hell it was doing making a drink, match reality, or is it only hipster tunnelvision that doesn’t know what the grownups have been drinking all along? The answer to that question would affect a lot of her argument that Chicago is basically purveying a borrowed, compromised version of New York and California’s cocktail renaissance purity, in which we wouldn’t dare do something like open a gin-only bar, because our friendly bartenders lack the east coast snottiness to tell patrons to screw off and enforce an uncompromisingly Calvinist vision of cocktail making.
The other question is, do her measures for our scene matter? What, exactly, is the virtue of a gin-only bar? We frankly see that as exactly the sort of thing New Yorkers, for whom minute distinctions of social standing matter every bit today as they did in Ward McAllister’s reign, would eat up with a spoon, but we’re not clear why it should matter here. The Drawing Room’s Charles Joly, who happens to be making a cocktail in the Reader this very week in Key Ingredient, makes the counterargument:
Personally, I strive to give my guests whatever they’re looking for. If a guest has a request and I have the means to meet it on hand, so be it. If I don’t believe in a particular spirit, beer etc, it won’t be in the bar in the first place- so it’s not an issue. To me, that is hospitality. That is a lack of pretension that makes me love the Midwest.
In short, we tend to think that New Yorkers get off on being told “No vodka for you!” in a way that doesn’t fly in Chicago. But maybe we’re missing something wonderful about a pure gin focus. The real point, though, is that we’re naturally resistant to the idea that New York is the measure of all things, because it precludes any possibility of a different style developing anywhere else. (And in that case, Shake Shack really is the best burger on earth, instead of a pale reflection of the glory that is Oklahoma.) What do you think? Does Chicago have enough of a style of its own that we can say, that’s our style and forget worrying about whether New York approves?