A Bullshot with a beef jerky garnish at Bridge Bar
The Bullshot at Bridge Bar: Why, yes, that is a beef jerky garnish.

I ate beef jerky for the first time in my life last night. I drank beef jerky for the first time, too. The Creative Director and I were at Bridge Bar (315 N. Lasalle St.), the so-called “cocktail kitchen” above Fulton’s on the River, which celebrated its opening night Monday with a tasting of nine craft cocktails and a few plates from its quirky food menu.

Shockingly savory at first sip, the Bullshot ($10) is a cocktail that should bring out the cowboy in every drinker: jerky-infused vodka, beef bouillon, lemon juice, Tabasco, and Worcestershire. I mean, giddy-up. Like most of the other drinks on the list—many of which are served over a single giant ice cube—it’s not for the faint of booze. Take the Roots & Rye ($10). There’s nothing frou-frou about it: Templeton rye, sassafras bitters, and absinthe in a classic highball glass. Sip slowly.

With décor inspired by its proximity to the river and the Lasalle Street bridge—green paint, industrial-looking exposed lightbulbs—Bridge Bar’s cocktail-kitchen concept is all about, yes, bridging the divide between food and drink, bartender and chef. (The employees who whip up both the drinks and the dishes behind the square, exhibition-like bar are called “bar chefs.”) The place has afterwork wind-down written all over it, and there are plenty of playful snacks if you’re not hungry enough for a full entrée. My two favorites were among the simplest. Truffled chips with bleu cheese fondue ($5) made me glad for a reprieve from ho-hum fries, while the Drive Thru Burger ($5) is an inspired take on the fast-food variety, served piping hot in a foil wrapper.

I’ll be back once the place gets its river legs (look for my review to come in a future Cheers column), and if conversation starts to flag, I can always watch as the bar chefs plate—or pour—the next course. Because, really, who needs a plate when your cocktail comes with a beef garnish?