Group cocktails are a summer no-brainer. A friend unexpectedly drops by the bar, your co-worker brings a new summer fling along and suddenly your three-person meet-up becomes a mini-party. Chicago bars have taken note and want to fuel your communal cocktailing with a season's worth of large-format drinks, from pitchers to punch bowls to, yes, canteens. Bartenders have injected contemporary style to make an old concept—remember your parents' '70s punch bowls?—feel contemporary. Trendy ingredients, bright colors and novel presentations turn these table centerpieces into real showstoppers. Get those cameras and glasses ready. email@example.com | @redeyeeatdrink
Summer Patio Pitchers at Cicchetti 671 N. St. Clair St. 312-642-1800
How do we love the five flavors of shareable cocktails at this Italian stunner in Streeterville? Let us count the ways. First, those elegant (but still easy to pour) pitchers show off the drinks' fresh fruit and herbs. Second, the drinks are available both by the pitcher ($26-$38) and by the individual glass ($7-$14) for cocktail commitment-phobes. Third, with bases ranging from Aperol to gin to vodka to red wine to beer, there's a pitcher for nearly any drinker's taste. Keep it simple with the Murano (blueberry vodka, housemade lemonade and ginger beer), or switch up your sangria routine with the Stiletto, made with brachetto d'acqui red wine and sweet vermouth. As a bonus, Cicchetti's 100-seat patio framed by orange umbrellas and ferns feels deceptively far from the downtown traffic.
Chef's Cocktails at IO Urban Roofscape 127 W. Huron St. 312-374-1830
Sure, you could go the bottle-service route at this rooftop lounge atop the Godfrey Hotel in River North, but that's not the only way to party with a group. Look for seven cocktail pitchers ($37-$45) in crowd-pleasing flavors including mojito, white sangria and vodka-lemonade punch, some of which feature fancy touches such as a habanero-and-salt foam topping the Don Julio margarita pitcher. Each serves approximately four people.
Punch Canteens at The Dawson
730 W. Grand Ave. 312-243-8955
OK, it's not quite roughing it when you're lounging on the restaurant's lush 150-seat patio, but it does feel closer to nature than you'd expect from its location at the busy intersection of Grand, Milwaukee and Halsted. Gather a group around the outdoor fireplace and order the camp-inspired canteens ($45) filled with your choice of two punches, both of which serve three to five people. Fans of tequila will want to try the Number One, which combines blanco tequila with red aperitif wine, passionfruit green tea, pineapple juice, citrus and bitters. The Number Two is a complex and fruity mix of Bols Genever gin, Jamaican rum, black tea, hibiscus, lime juice and Thai bitters.
Cease and Desist pitchers at CH Distillery
564 W. Randolph St. 312-707-8780
After you and your friends have finished gawking at the gorgeous stills where this West Loop distillery makes its vodka, gin and other spirits, you're going to be thirsty. A pitcher of Cease and Desist cocktails—made with lapsang souchong tea-infused gin, ginger, honey and lemon juice—serves six, and each glass comes with its own ice sphere. Why the large ice shape? It melts less quickly, keeping the water from diluting your drink, which is pretty important if you've grabbed a spot on the bar's sidewalk patio.
Porron cocktails at Avec
615 W. Randolph St. 312-377-2002
In Spain, a porron instantly signifies a party. Pros can drink wine or cider from these pitchers without spilling a drop, even from an arm's length away. While you may not want to test those skills at Avec, they won't discourage you from giving the pitcher a sip straight from its sprout. Each of the three varieties of porron cocktails serves two to three people with flavors including Peche Sangria (vinho verde wine and peach; $19), Tinto de Verano (red wine and blood orange soda; $17) and Sidewalker (Revolution Brewing Fist City ale, Campari and verjus, which is a wine made from the pressed skin of unripened grapes; $16).
Housemade Punch Bowls at Joe Fish
445 N. Dearborn St. 312-832-7700
Punch for one? Punch for two to three? Punch for eight? The new seafood-centric River North restaurant can accommodate groups of all sizes with individual glasses ($12), half bowls ($40) and full bowls ($70), best enjoyed on a warm evening near the retractable windows adjacent to the bar area. Choices range from a classic Fish House Punch (rum, brandy, peach liqueur, lemon and blood orange juices, bitters, club soda) to a tropical Pisco Punch (pisco, passionfruit rum, pineapple and lime juice, ginger beer, bitters) to the fruity Anti-toxic8ing Punch (hibiscus tea-infused acai spirit, cherry liqueur, berries, lemon juice, sparkling rosé). Consider the size of your punch bowl wisely, or happy hour with co-workers could last until nighttime.
Punch at Elle on the River
330 N. Wabash Ave. 312-923-9988
The casual, waterfront sister restaurant to Travelle at the Langham Hotel offers a picturesque perch for watching riverfront traffic between the State and Wabash bridges—and yes, punch bowls. Actually, punch cubes is more appropriate given the large, square dispensers that hold small ($75; serves three to four) or large ($150; serves six or more) punches in a trio of flavors. Elle A Noir (regular and cherry vodkas, strawberry juice, basil and peach juice), or Better Than A Bradford (gin, watermelon, lemon juice, basil) sound especially refreshing. Just sipping solo? Each is available by the individual glass for $10.
COMING SOON: Large-format rooftop cocktails at Celeste
111 W. Hubbard St. 312-828-9000
River North's Celeste generated quite a bit of opening buzz this spring for both its intricate decor and its extensive cocktail menu. We're eagerly anticipating the late July opening of the bar's rooftop, which promises to be an English garden-style oasis complete with plenty of greenery, white sofas and vintage mirrors and accents. Take in some sunshine while sharing group cocktails such as the Kubu Gan Gillian Punch, made with pisco, orange curacao, lemon juice, pineapple shrub (a type of vinegar-based mixer), Szechuan peppercorns and bitters served over one huge ice cube. Our choice would be the bar's variation on a Pimm's Cup called Wimbledon Punch, which perfectly complements the English garden vibe.