Lemon and bitters soda from The Drawing Room
According to a 2011 Gallup poll, 35 percent of American adults say they don’t drink alcohol, yet most Chicago bars and restaurants that pride themselves on creative cocktails don’t list nonalcoholic options on their menus. The Violet Hour, The Aviary, The Whistler, Sable, and Curio are all very nice about offering to make something imaginative without liquor—once you ask. Why put the onus on the teetotalers? “It might just be oversight,” says Charles Joly, the chief mixologist at The Drawing Room. “Nonalcoholic drinks are an important part of a well-rounded beverage program. They’re all pieces of the same puzzle.” Here are four establishments that remember the Mormons, the preggos, the designated drivers, and the already drunk.
1460 W. Chicago Ave.; 312-243-7100
BEST Pink peppercorn and thyme soda, with an anise overtone that rounds out the spicy, lightly fruity flavor. Mild, herbal, and sparkly, the soda tastes grown-up and smells like a French estate.
RUNNER-UP Bitter lemon soda. It tastes pleasantly of lemon pith and is surprisingly different from the lemon and bitters drink at The Drawing Room.
Shawn McClain’s vegetarian restaurant offers house-made sodas and nonalcoholic drinks in unlikely flavors, such as umeboshi shiso (Japanese salted-plum purée) and walnut. All keep a safe distance from a run-of-the-mill soda’s tooth-hurting sweetness.
KARYN’S ON GREEN
130 S. Green St.; 312-226-6155
BEST Clip On, with coconut water, lime juice, and almond syrup. Shaken and then served in a wide cocktail glass, this concoction has a vaguely Thai flavor and a lingering beachy finish.
RUNNER-UP Blueberry Mint Fizz. Blueberries, fresh mint, lemonade, and club soda may be an obvious combination, but when they’re mixed in just the right proportions, it’s like spring in a highball glass.
Judging from Green Zebra and this vegan spot, restaurants that are already experts in deprivation must have a leg up on mocktails. Although a few of the creations stick a toe into the realm of off-putting ingredients (aloe, rejuvelac), all hit their marks.
1846 W. Division St., 312-878-1212; 93 S. La Grange Rd., La Grange, 708-469-7058; 51 S. First St., St. Charles, 630-908-5200
BEST Kombucha with apple, mint, and agave. Served with a foamy head in a Champagne flute, this drink lets the fermented funk of the kombucha peek through but wraps it in the sweetness of the apple and the brightness of the mint. And it has foam. Who doesn’t like foam?
RUNNER-UP Kombucha-Mosa. Orange juice, agave, and kombucha together resemble a mimosa, but basil flecks make this mix more than a pale imitation. The real key to a mocktail is personality.
“Quenchers,” sodas, and juice blends all appear on Prasino’s lengthy list of booze-free choices, but the most interesting drinks are based on kom- bucha, a fermented (but nonalcoholic) tea. As a replacement for the backbone of alcohol, kombucha won’t fool anyone, but with its sour flavor and full body, it’s a close relative.
THE DRAWING ROOM
937 N. Rush St.; 312-266-2694
BEST Lemon and bitters soda, with house-made tonic syrup, lemon, Angostura bitters, and soda. The taste of the bitters hits the tongue first, then the lemon blooms, and the finish is all tonic.
RUNNER-UP Lucien’s Elixir. Grated ginger, lime, “baking-spiced bitters,” and soda create a riff on ginger that’s aggressive but not overwhelming.
The Drawing Room has always had a “Temperance” section with nonalcoholic drinks just as complex and full of character as their spirited mates—but at less than half the price. They even share some of the same specialty ingredients. “Since we have the fresh juices and syrups and flavoring agents, it makes sense to cross-utilize those,” Joly says.