by Jesse Erickson | June 1, 2014 6:44 pm
As surprising as this may sound, I’ve grown up in Nebraska my whole life and, until April, I’ve never been to Chicago. I know, weird. For some reason I never had the desire to go, even though I only ever heard awesome things. My fiancé Brock more or less surprised me with the trip I didn’t know I wanted to take.
Well, our five days spent there completely changed my mind. I fell in love with that city and I’d move there in a heartbeat, if I could afford the lifestyle in which we spoiled ourselves. The spoiling was mostly on delicious food and even better drinks. Considering we’re both bartenders, that’s not that surprising.
The whirlwind in the Windy City started late on a Thursday night after our flight landed and we dropped the bags off at the Hotel Chicago Downtown. Considering we were staying at one of the most popular drinking hubs in Chicago, it was easy to hit the ground running.
We started off at a weird little country bar while looking for the slightly elusive (if you’re an out-of-towner) Three Dots and a Dash Tiki bar. The country bar, which I don’t remember the name of, had a rockin’ live band, over-priced whiskey shots and a lot of dancing, to which I was not even close to being drunk enough to do. Our shots were taken and we quickly escaped the “yee-haws”, “whoops” and whistles.
After asking exactly where to find where Three Dots was, and having bright blue lights showing us the path, we made it around the corner and into an alley where the door stood illuminated in blue. Something I’m not used to in Omaha is lines to get into a bar. That could also be because I work the weekends and my days off are during the week, limiting the line situation. Tiki bars are popping up all over the country – it’s a new bar fad.
After waiting in line for a few minutes we were able to walk through a dark hallway, down a flight of stairs, and were transported to a moonless Hawaiian beach, without the sand and the ocean. The décor was fun with wooded walls, Tiki masks palm trees and glistening white Christmas lights. We had plenty of time to take in the scenery waiting for a spot at the bar to open up, but when it did, holy crapcickles!
Their menu is fun and colorful, featuring an array of rum filled goodies. I got the “A Lonely Island Lost In The Middle Of a Foggy Sea” which was made of aged rum, spiced rum, Indian rum, cold brew coffee, pineapple and lime. It was sweet, sour, and nicely bitter from the coffee. Beyond it being a great cocktail, it was served in a great glass – a cute little mug that looked like a skull. Three Dots have a ton of fun mugs, not all of them skulls, to drink out of for each of their concoctions. Many of them pay tribute to the Tiki masks of Hawaii while others pay homage to the tropical fruit, such as coconut and pineapple.
After Three Dots we wandered around downtown, popping our heads into dive bars and clubs, and any bar that had a sign that caught our interest. One of these was Celeste… well, kind of. Brock was craving Fernet-Branca and we couldn’t find it. This, by Omaha’s standards, is odd. So, thanks to Yelp, we were led to Celeste. We found ourselves in a fantastic cocktail bar. For this first night we only stayed there for the one shot and then retired, rather happily intoxicated, to our room. The next night we returned, curious about the interesting menu.
Celeste is one of two bars in the building, both owned and operated by the same people. Celeste is on the first floor, in an old narrow building. The bar takes up half of the floor plan, almost from the entrance all the way down the wall to the end of the building. Their liquor selection is vast and their cocktail menu inspired by the stars in the sky. I’m sad to say that I don’t remember specifically which cocktails I had here. However, I do remember them being rather potent in the most wonderful way possible.
Another discovery at Celeste is that it turns into an industry bar after about two am. We met some hilarious and fantastic industry people after their place of work closed. They were all incredibly nice and after a rather long night of taking shots with our newfound friends, we were told about a bunch of other places we had to visit. I suppose my fondest memory of Celeste is not one that you will be able to replicate. It wasn’t a cocktail, instead it was meeting people and finding my cheese-loving soulmate who turned out to be a very boisterous, beautiful, lively bartender by night, make-up artist by day, woman. She’s a lady that the next time I’m in Chicago I hope to run into again; she made that night more than entertaining.
To take a few steps back, before going to Celeste Friday night, we spent our evening in Wicker Park, the neighborhood in Chicago that I would LOVE to live in. We began our night at the Violet Hour, a craft cocktail bar that has beautifully crafted and extremely balanced drinks, plus if you’re from Nebraska, you’re more than welcome. It turns out one of the owners is from here and many of the staff have transplanted themselves from Nebraska to Chicago. The staff was more than awesome. We had great conversations about spirits, cocktails, bartending, life, Chicago and were given, yet again, a very long list of places to check out. From there we took the bartender’s advice and hit up the Longhorn next.
The Longhorn is a cozy restaurant that features craft cocktails and some of the yummiest Brussels sprouts that I’ve ever had. The cocktail I had featured mescal, which offered some smoke, a bit of acid from lime, and agave. It was booze forward, interesting – but in a good way – and definitely highlighted the smokiness that mezcal has to offer, which on the chilly night that it was, made perfect sense to my taste buds.
The Longhorn, as well as The Violet Hour, were both intimate atmospheres and we were ready for a loud beer bar. We headed a few blocks to a bar rather similar to our Beercade, Emporium. It felt like home to me, being that I work at Beercade and was a breath of fresh Omaha air. The bar was huge, with a ton of different options for gaming. Sadly, I wasn’t able to get any pinball in because they were all being played the whole time we were there. But the environment was fun, exciting and everyone there was having a good time, which is always an indicator of a good bar.
There’s so much more I can write about in regards to my mostly memorable vacation, but I have to end with the best bar I’ve ever been to, the Aviary. If you consider yourself a cocktail connoisseur and haven’t been there yet, you have to go – NOW. Pack your bag, book a flight or put gas in your car and GO. The menu is incredible and they’re doing things that no one has ever thought of before. Brock and I decided to have their pick-three cocktail flights. The first of my three drinks was the Zombie Panda, which has tiny little ice spheres, smaller than marbles, made out of raspberry liquor. That’s right, even the ice in this drink gets you drunk. It was sweet and tart and, if I could have those little ice spheres in every one of my summer drinks, I’d be the happiest girl in all of the Midwest.
The second drink I ordered was also fantastic, but didn’t even compare to my third. The Thai Iced Coffee is the most whimsical drink that has ever existed. It was brought to me in a classic glass mug with most of the yummy booze sitting on the bottom of the glass. On top of the mug was the daintiest wisp of vanilla cotton candy. Our server ever so gently poured dark rum over the cotton candy, letting it dissolve into the drink. The combination of candy, cardamom, anise, milk and rum, was the only way I could have ended my experience at The Aviary.
After that, we were lucky enough to be snuck into their rather exclusive bar in the basement called The Office. I’m going to be really mean here and keep that experience to myself because you have to go and experience it yourself. There aren’t enough words – and definitely not enough space – in this article to sing the praises and the awe of what is the best hidden gem.
Chicago: the best vacation I’ve ever been on and the best drinks I’ve ever had. I’m excited to go back and wish I could go tomorrow, but until I do, I hope some of you get the idea. Go drink – skip the touristy stuff and discover the Chicago that I found.
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