Think back to the last time you wore a plastic lei—on spring break or a cruise ship, perhaps? Chances are, you also were drinking a frozen pink daiquiri with enough sugar to make you twitch. The daiquiri, which historically was a three-ingredient mix of rum, lime juice and sugar, has lost sight over the last few decades of its roots as a simple, sweet-tart refresher. But a recent trend toward pared-down, fewer-ingredient cocktails means more Chicago bartenders are rediscovering the tropical drink's origins. "In America, you think of a daiquiri and you think of a slushie machine. It was kind of bastardized in the '80s by Chili's and TGI Fridays," said Justin Anderson, beverage manager at Fulton Market's South American-inspired restaurant La Sirena Clandestina. "But really, you can have very simple ingredients and make a great daiquiri." Though they're ditching sugar-loaded mixes in favor of fresh limes and high-quality rum, bars aren't all serving up the same riff on the drink. From classic presentations to habanero- and watermelon-flavored versions, allow the daiquiri to reintroduce itself. firstname.lastname@example.org | @redeyeeatdrink
Hemingway Daiquiri ($12) at Big Jones 5347 N. Clark St. 773-275-5725
Based on the style of daiquiri that was a favorite of writer (and epic drinker) Ernest Hemingway at Cuban bar El Floridita, this drink has been a part of Big Jones' menu since the Andersonville restaurant expanded its bar program two months ago. "I've come to respect Ernest Hemingway as a drinker as much as a writer, not just because of the heroic amount that he was supposed to be drinking, but because he drank well," said beverage director Andrew Shay. To prepare the Hemingway daiquiri, Shay shakes anejo rum and lime juice (but not sugar) with ice, grapefruit juice and a few drops of earthy-but-sweet maraschino liqueur, then strains it into a rocks glass. "If a drink is associated with Ernest Hemingway, it's good," Shay said. "You just trust him."
Hand-shaken Daiquiri ($11-$12) at La Sirena Clandestina 954 W. Fulton Market 312-226-5300
Beverage director Justin Anderson wants to upgrade your strawberry daiquiri. Guys, this means you, too. There's nothing frilly about this compulsively drinkable blend of two rums—a 5-year-aged rum and light rum—shaken with strawberry preserves and fresh-squeezed Mexican lime juice served over snow cone-style crushed ice. "We try to find ways to make pedestrian cocktails taste great," Anderson said, citing their harmony with the Fulton Market restaurant's simply prepared Latin dishes. "The daiquiri is a very basic cocktail but we took it a step further." La Sirena's daiquiri also is available without the preserves for fruit-phobes, but at the height of strawberry season in the Midwest, ordering it with the extra flavor is a no-brainer.
Daiquiri ($10) at Billy Sunday 3143 W. Logan Blvd. 773-661-2485
Served over a dramatic ski slope of crushed ice, the passion fruit-laced daiquiri at this Logan Square restaurant and cocktail bar is all about the rum—or rums, in this case. Beverage director Alex Bachman uses two types of rum—an overproof rum and a rhum agricole—of varying alcohol levels as the drink's base, then adds passion fruit syrup, pineapple bitters and lots of ice. "When you're using 100- and 150-proof rum, [the daiquiri] can stand to take a little more ice or water. In our case, it probably needs it," Bachman said. The fruit notes play a supporting role to the spirits' flavors, which Bachman says is truer to a real daiquiri. "We're really beginning to understand these tropical cocktails again. Originally, the daiquiri was just a celebration of great Cuban rum."
Sandia Daiquiri ($11) at Takito Kitchen 2013 W. Division St. 773-687-9620
"What did I think of when I thought 'summer' and 'daiquiris'?" Takito Kitchen's beverage director Adam Weber said. "I thought 'watermelon.'" The Mexican-influenced Wicker Park restaurant adds freshly juiced watermelon to a base of Brugal rum, a brand known for its drier character, then mixes in maraschino liqueur and piloncillo, which is Mexican sugar cane juice in solid form. Lastly, deviating from tradition, Weber swaps lime juice for lemon juice, which he said better complements the watermelon. While all this sounds like a new-school interpretation of the daiquiri, Weber emphasizes it's still a balanced pyramid of rum, citrus and a sweetener. "I wanted to create something that was really straight-forward and approachable. The watermelon presence is there but is balanced out nicely by the dry rum."
Claim Jumper ($10) at Bub City 435 N. Clark St. 312-610-4200
While the city holds its breath waiting for Molly, Jerrod and R.J. Melman and cocktail director Paul McGee to open tiki bar Three Dots and a Dash below Bub City, fans can catch a preview of his tropical style in the form of this daiquiri variation at the River North barbecue restaurant. Beginning with an aged white rum, McGee adds subtle tartness with a pineapple drinking vinegar, made by Portland-based Pok Pok restaurant, and some back-of-the-throat spice courtesy of a habanero shrub, a mild alcoholic liquid that also contains vinegar. "I didn't want you to go, 'Wow, that's a really hot drink.' I just wanted to give it a bit of lingering flavor," McGee said, adding that the spice and the drink's pineapple flavors play off the barbecue food served at Bub City. Of course, this is just the beginning; McGee teases to more daiquiris and tiki treats to come at Three Dots and a Dash this summer.