4:36 PM CDT, June 19, 2012
Put away that vodka-lemonade. Stash the sangria. And don't even think about ordering another mojito. If you're craving a change from your usual summer sipping routine, the cocktail menus at plenty of local bars and restaurants are beckoning with fresh, fun flavors. Find the flavor profile below that best matches your taste—herbal, smoky, floral or fruity—and read up on a few of our favorites. Trust us, you'll need a break from all those margaritas eventually.
III Cucumber Martini ($12.50)
333 E. Benton Place 312-938-4303
You're sitting with: Barstool neighbors that will keep you guessing. There's a bar near the entrance of this downtown steakhouse, but you'll want to head upstairs to the rooftop overlooking green and gorgeous Lakeshore East Park. I happily sipped between a cluster of wine-guzzling girls dishing on which of their coworkers "definitely has had a boob job," and a dude quietly Blackberry-ing with a glass of rosé.
You're thinking: This drink sounds light, but it sure is strong. It's essentially a gimlet—gin and lime juice—with the addition of muddled cucumber and basil. If you don't like leaves floating in your drink, ask for it strained.
Your next move: Ordering some bar bites. Finger food ranges from simple sliders ($8.95) to mini-waffle cones with duck and port wine-doused cherries tucked inside ($12.95). –Lisa Arnett
Tiger Eyes ($7)
1531 N. Damen Ave. 773-235-4039
You're sitting with: If it's lunch, resto/bar industry regulars, a handful of tourists and lucky SOBs with weekdays off. If it's post-work, the Chicago Twitter contingent, people who like bragging about snagging prime patio seating and Wicker Parkers still hungover from last night.
You're thinking: I shouldn't have ordered this drink before 5 p.m. It's got a single-barrel bourbon base, for heaven's sake. The vermouth, maraschino liquor and amaro help round out the flavor, but woof—it's still packing a punch. Wormwood bitters add a black licorice taste to the first few sips.
Your next move: Tacos—and lots of them. It just wouldn't be right to leave without. And if you're eyeing that bacon-wrapped hot dog on the menu, the answer is "yes." –Emily Van Zandt
Where There's Smoke There's Fire ($11)
1664 N.Ada St.773-697-7069
You're sitting with: Foodie couples snapping cell-phone pics, oenophiles asking pointed questions about the wine list, beer beginners trying new brews—they're all camped out along the bar.
You're thinking: This is totally my new margarita substitute. It's made with lime juice and mezcal, which is kind of like tequila's smokier, sultrier cousin. Then there's a bit of egg white for body and guajillo chili-infused agave, which provides a heady kick in the throat.
Your next move: Head to the faux grass-carpeted patio, which is a fun little retreat in itself with a fire pit and pingpong table. For a bigger change of scenery, there's not much in this quiet, industrial corridor of East Bucktown save for Hideout a few blocks away. –LA
960 W. 18th St. 312-666-8601
You're sitting with: Tables full of Pilsen neighbors grabbing dinner or trying the latest craft brews on tap. If it looks crowded when you arrive, walk around to the other side of the bar where there are a few somewhat-hidden booths that fill up more slowly.
You're thinking: That's huge! This mezcal-based drink is served with ice and a straw in a soda-sized glass. The woodsy, smoky mezcal is tempered by a mix of peach schnapps, lime juice, grapefruit juice and ginger beer. The result is a fast-drinking, refreshing cocktail that tastes more like a spiked soda than anything else. Dangerous.
Your next move: Order another Trinidaddy (just to giggle at the name) before switching to the latest 5 Rabbit brew on tap. –EV
Spiked Uva Pop ($13)
151 W. Erie St. 312-274-1111
You're sitting with: River North personified. The main bar at this sexy Spanish hangout is lined with canoodling couples and dudes with a few too many buttons undone on their dress shirts.
You're thinking: Why haven't I tried this drink sooner? Since opening earlier this year, Tavernita's draft cocktails have gotten the most attention in the drinks department. But house-made sodas such as this one flavored with golden raisins, white grape and rose water take well to being spiked with vodka. It's more rosy than grapey and would make a fun summer upgrade for anyone stuck in a vodka-tonic rut.
Your next move: Migrate to Tavernita's separate bar area Barcito, where tipsy girls use what little space there is to dance to Gotye and Foster the People remixes. For a more laid-back end to the night, put your name in for a table in the lounge and graze on tasty crudos, crostini or croquettes.—LA
French 27 ($14)
Roof at the Wit Hotel
201 N. State St. 312-229-9501
You're sitting with: No one. Because you're not sitting, you're standing—between two sharply dressed finance bros blowing off steam at 5:30 p.m., that is. Taking up those highly coveted tables are groups staying at the hotel downstairs who have been holding court for hours, along with the club crowd preparing for a night of bottle service. At this 27th floor rooftop bar, everyone's happy to be soaking up the sunshine behind their designer shades.
You're thinking: I'm going to need another one of these. Served in a stemless champagne flute, the French 27 is the bar's take on the traditional French 75. It takes the traditional recipe (gin, champagne and lemon juice) and swaps the gin for grapefruit vodka and adds elderflower liqueur and grapefruit bitters. The result is a mellow, creamy sweetness that cuts through the dry champagne. Served with a twist of lemon on top, it's a nice-looking accessory to the cocktail dresses and breezy tops most of the female clientele here are wearing.
Your next move: Get another drink before it gets really crowded. This bar's already standing room only at 4 p.m., so you can only imagine the kind of breathing space that will be available come 10 p.m. Enjoy the view while you can, but if it's not your scene, it's best to arrive (and tab out) extra early.FRUITY
The Red Door ($12)
2118 N. Damen Ave. 773-697-7221
You're sitting with: A mostly 30-something crowd surrounding the big wooden bar inside and lazing on the sideyard patio outside.
You're thinking: I'm gonna have to take a photo of the this one. A mix of cherry vodka, muddled mint and lime juice is served in a martini glass garnished with a white blossom, and the delicate look mirrored the subtle minty flavor. Perfect for a breezy summer night, it left me wanting to sing, "I feel pretty, and witty and light!"
Your next move: Waving over the bartender for another round. While my drink was subtle and dainty, I also loved the tart, boozy taste of my friend's drink: The Rose Thorn made with tequila, rhubarb syrup and crystallized ginger.–Vicky Rodriguez
Pineapple Cobbler ($11)
PT at the Talbott
10 E. Delaware Place 312-640-8135
You're sitting with: A lot of empty tables. My friends and I had the spacious patio at this Gold Coast pop-up practically to ourselves, save for a couple groups. PT's sticking around just for the summer until the Talbott Hotel's new restaurant opens, so I hope that it catches on before it's gone for good.
You're thinking: This is the perfect patio sipper. Pineapple cocktails can be cloying, but this vodka-spiked one with raspberries, blackberries and prosecco is slightly sweet and has enough ice to keep it cool without tasting watered down. It's super-sippable with just a bit of sparkle.
Your next move: Order another round of drinks, and while you're at it, a basket of mini-lobster rolls with poblano cream. The indoor area doesn't offer much by way of summery ambience (it looks like any wood-paneled old-school hotel bar), so if rain threatens, I'd head to another Gold Coast hangout rather than move inside. –LA
Writers visit bars unannounced and drinks are paid for by RedEye. firstname.lastname@example.org | @redeyechicago
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