Low-Cal Cocktails and Big Ideas at Hoyt’s, in Hotel 71—the Real Star of ‘Transformers’

Cutting calories and carbs has been my mission in June and July, but that’s no easy feat when you write about bars for a living—and also when every summer weekend devolves into a giddy, three-day festival of beer and encased meats…

Hoyt's, located at Hotel 71

Cutting calories and carbs has been my mission in June and July, but that’s no easy feat when you write about bars for a living—and also when every summer weekend devolves into a giddy, three-day festival of beer and encased meats.

So, in advance of my date with a friend yesterday evening for drinks at Hoyt’s, the tavern that took up residence at Hotel 71 in March, I began coaching myself early in the day: No biggie, just get one vodka soda, I thought. Really, that’s all anyone needs at 5 p.m.

Upon arrival, the two of us claimed couches on Hoyt’s expansive sidewalk patio, which, with its angled views of the bank of architectural stunners lining Wacker Drive and the river, might be one of the most Chicago-y places to drink outdoors. I was so engrossed in the views and the breeze—weather-wise, it was the finest happy hour of the summer—that I didn’t even flip open the menu. But the late-day sun must have baked my head just the teeniest bit, because when the waiter came to take our order, I blurted out the first cocktail I saw: “The Pear Cooler for me,” I said, loving the promise of “pear” and “cool” but cringing inwardly as (too late) my eyes fell on the words “simple syrup” in the $9 drink’s description.

Only after he had disappeared to retrieve our drinks did I spot, way down at the bottom of the menu, what I should have ordered. “What! They have the Skinny Girl Margarita?” I asked my friend, astonished to see Real Housewife Bethenny Frankel’s famed concoction ($8 a glass, $28 a pitcher) listed so close to “Tavern Specials” such as deviled deep fried eggs ($6), mac and cheese with truffled Wisconsin cheese sauce ($12), and crispy everything else ($6 to $8).

“Do you like those?” he asked. “I’ve heard from some people that they’re kind of, you know, bland.”

“If they contain alcohol and they’re guilt free, who cares?” I responded, vowing to order one next round.

Across the street from where we were sitting, a row of white trucks, a craft services tent, and a cluster of people holding bright lights got us started on that other line of Wacker Drive conversation: Do you know what’s filming over there?

After a few improbable guesses (Transformers: Bright of the Sun? Dark Knight, Early Evening? What Women Have Never Wanted? College-Bound Fockers?), we finally asked our waiter. “It’s Rosie O’Donnell’s show,” he told us. Oh.

Speaking of Transformers, I was surprised not to see any movie-themed cocktail on Hoyt’s drink list, since most of the scathing reviews I’ve read of that movie mention the explosive Chicago battle scene, in which Hotel 71 plays a starring role.

I asked our waiter about the omission when he stopped by to deliver my friend’s Negroni ($11) and my Skinny Girl (yes, it’s a little like drinking spiked Crystal Light, but whatever—I had two!), and he ended up sending over the hotel’s GM, Steve Shern, who happened to be cocktailing at a table nearby.

“So I was thinking,” I said to Shern, “that they should definitely have a Transformers cocktail on the menu, and guess what? It could totally transform as you drink it! It could change colors or something.”

He obviously loved the idea and promised to suggest it to his staff right away. In the meantime, he said, the hotel is all over the Transformers thing, offering a special package that includes an overnight stay, a $20 food and drink credit, and two tickets to the movie, starting at $199.

“Oh! You know what you should do?” I said. “You should put the DVDs of the first two Transformers movies in the rooms!”

“Those are available upon request,” Shern told me. Oh.

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