Of all the many rooftop bars opening (and reopening) this season, this one might be the most exciting. After extensive construction above a ballroom, Z Bar (108 E. Superior St., River North) is about to let visitors to the Peninsula Hotel enjoy globally-inspired drinks and bites in the sky.
“Everything in the space is built around the idea of an adventurous traveler,” says Vlad Novikov, who's been crowned “Director of Cocktails and Culture” at Z Bar. “Even our physical menu is designed like a travel journal, as if you were taking notes about the cocktails on a journey.”
Guests enter through elevators painted with a lush forest scene, and when they reach the sixth-floor bar, they’ll encounter luxurious touches like hand-painted murals, marble, soft wood, and expansive skylights.
This is not a slapdash operation. Everything has been carefully thought through over the years-long development process. Even the music has been curated to an almost obsessive extent, as playlists with tunes set to specific beats per minute help transition guests from a cool afternoon lounge session to a more intense party atmosphere in the evening. “What we’re hoping for is that it’s calm and relaxing early on, and guests are having such a good time that they won’t notice they’re at a hopping rooftop bar,” says Novikov.
Cocktails are meant to transport you around the world, with rare ingredients that you might never have tried before. The Paralia (which means “beach” in Greek) blends two native Greek spirits—mastiha and tsipouro—with peach and lemon verbena flavors for a light, refreshing cocktail. It’s garnished with what looks like a green olive but is actually a tiny baby peach from Japan. There are playful touches too, like a bottled, carbonated Cosmo you can order five at a time in a Champagne bucket, like a bucket of beers at a dive bar. “We really want people to have fun,” Novikov says. “We could make a normal Cosmo, but why not carbonate and bottle it?”
The drink that’s sure to get the most attention is the $100 Manhattan Royale (though its price might impede it from blowing up on Instagram). Made with 18-year-old Elijah Craig bourbon and black truffle bitters, it keeps extra cool with an ice cube that glitters with 24-karat gold. “I remember someone once told me, 'You can’t make a Manhattan with that bourbon, it’s too nice!’ I said, 'Why not?'” Novikov says.
Food options also evoke this feeling of whimsical global luxury—see hand-pulled mozzarella from Campagna, carved tableside; a take on “ants on a log” made with black sturgeon caviar; or bone marrow poppers with bordelaise sauce and Yukon gold potatoes. Bar bites are paired with more affordable spirit tastings, so guests can try some of the more interesting tipples that Novikov has managed to source.
The bar isn’t quite ready for prime time yet but is hoping for an opening in mid-June.