I succumbed to peer pressure this weekend and tried Cocaine. Not the drug, of course: the new energy drink that has the nightlife industry buzzing. Stone Lotus hosted Cocaine’s local launch party Friday, and despite plenty of negative buzz, the drink’s appeal doesn’t seem to have taken a hit. "If we lost five customers, we gained 20," says Brian Winshall, the exclusive Chicago distributor of Cocaine, which can be found at stores including Sam’s Wine & Spirits and Gold Crown Liquor, as well as at bars including Stone Lotus, Plan B, and soon, Cobra Lounge.
In case you missed it, the negative attention I’m referring to reached a high (no pun intended) a couple of weeks ago, when the Tribune reported that the FDA isn’t thrilled with Cocaine’s marketing pitch, which uses phrases like "the legal alternative" and "speed in a can." (Winshall says Redux Beverages, Cocaine’s Vegas-based parent company, is in continuous dialogue with the FDA regarding proposed changes). Then a Sun-Times article reported that Ald. Burke of the 14th ward wants the drink banned: "With 280 milligrams of caffeine and a secret ‘throat-numbing’ ingredient," the article read, "Cocaine energy drinks are ‘marketed to give a high coupled with a tingly, euphoric feeling within five minutes of drinking it, followed by an initial boost and a buzz’ that lasts as long as six hours, according to the proposed ban."
Sounds like what alcohol gives you: a high coupled with a tingly, euphoric feeling. It also gives you beer goggles, but at least Cocaine isn’t marketing that.
The scrutiny has only fed curiosity. For Friday’s launch, Stone Lotus stocked about ten cases of the drink. By 10 p.m., the bar’s upstairs, which usually gets going around 11 or 11:30 p.m., was packed. "It tastes like candy," one taster said of the drink, which was mixed with Xellent vodka, also a party sponsor. Another sipper thought the drink packed a bigger punch than competitors like Red Bull; others seemed too distracted by the gyrating dancers clad in tiny Cocaine-emblazoned tank tops and boy shorts to care either way.
Partygoers didn’t seem offended by the drink, and I didn’t catch anyone shuddering at its potency, although I’m not sure how everyone slept that night. As for that "tingle" effect – meant to simulate the "drip" sensation users get from the real drug – it’s more like a cinnamon-flavored after-burn in the throat, which I could certainly do without. (The drink also comes in the varieties Cut Cocaine, with no spice, or "drip" effect, and sugar-free, spice-free Cocaine Free.)
Celebrity Beat: Actor Billy Baldwin had lunch at my favorite deli, Eleven City Diner, Saturday afternoon with two friends who live on the North Side. They sat in one of those big booths in back and nibbled on a smorgasbord of food: French toast, pastrami, brisket, and an open-faced turkey sandwich. "The guy was an absolute gentleman," says owner Brad Rubin of Baldwin.