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The Legacy Of The Bucket O'Suds

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Sep 9, 2005 2:32PM


There's been some lamenting lately both in print and on-line about the steady decline of taverns in city. Years ago when this writer lived in "Liquor Park" there was a nice selection of dives that offered the opportunity to treat the liver like a one-night stand for under ten dollars. The Artful Dodger closed its doors nearly two months ago. Nick's on Milwaukee used to house Club Dreamerz. Estelle's was seemingly raided by the cops every other weekend, and Tuman's Alcohol Abuse Center served $3 Guinness pints to bikers and yuppies alike; both are shadows of their former selves. All these dives had nasty bathrooms, sweet jukeboxes, cheap drinks, enough second-hand smoke floating around to kill a rhino, and laid-back character in common.

One of the classic bars in this city's long history was the Bucket O'Suds at the corner of Cicero and Belmont, near the Cragin neighborhood. As a young kid growing up in nearby Hermosa Park the Bucket was a mystery that had to wait until he turned 21 to solve, since so many of his uncles were regulars there; our prized fake i.d. might have gotten us in, but it wasn't worth a boot in our ass that awaited us when we got home.

The proprietor of Bucket O' Suds was Joe Danno, a larger-than-life second-generation bartender who advocated learning "a new word a day (to keep) ignorance at bay". To call Danno a mixologist would be fitting in this day where flavored cocktails are common, but he could just as easily have been called an alchemist. In his years at the Bucket Danno had created more than one hundred cocktail recipes, stand-alone aperitifs, and sauces. They were always mixed, distilled and bottled on premise, and were treasured by people of all walks of life. From the neighborhood residents to Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra everybody knew about Joe Danno and the Bucket O' Suds. Regular patrons of the Bucket gave themselves the prized designation of "bucketeers."

When Danno's health began to decline he closed the Bucket O' Suds in 1998 (he passed away in 2002). In the years since the Bucket has grown in legend. It seems to have become one of those places or events that more people claim to have attended than actuallly did, like Disco Demolition or Super Bowl XX. However, one man has taken it upon himself to ensure that the legacy of the Bucket O' Suds is honored.

Scott Schiller is the grandson of Joe Danno and has the recipes for all of his grandfather's creations. Shortly after graduating from the University of Illinois he founded the BOS Distilling Company, which looks to honor the creativity and work of his family while introducing Joe Danno's mixing genius to a new generation of drinker. You may have seen these giant cologne-shaped bottles called "Alumni" and "Auburn" on back bars and store shelves. This is the legacy of the Bucket O' Suds. After the jump we'll fill you in on these two unique concoctions.

For the initial launch of BOS Distilling Schiller chose two of his grandfather's favortie concoctions with regulars: "Elixir of Lucifer" and "Chocoocoo". The recipes were tweaked a bit and renamed "Auburn" ("Elixir of Lucifer") and "Alumni" ("Chocoocoo") with a eye toward targeting younger, twenty-something drinkers as an alternative to flavored cocktails. The amazing characteristic of both liqueurs is that they mix well with just about any spirit or mixer one can imagine, while still possessing a unique flavor so that it could be sipped as a stand-alone pour. "Alumni" and "Auburn" both pack some serious alcohol content, as well.

"Auburn" has a light vanilla flavor with a rose/caramel color. You'll also pick up hints of brandy, amaretto and a very pronounced butterscotch note. "Auburn" has a sweet, almost perfume-like aroma. it's a wonderful alternative for purveyors of vanilla vodka- mix it with coke or diet coke, or add it to some hot water and make a unique toddy. For you who still like the occasional shot float some irish cream on top and have yourself a different take on a buttery nipple. Or mix it with triple sec, Cointreau or Patron Citronge and have a "Butterscotch Dum-Dum".

The dark-as-oil "Alumni" carries notes of chocolate (most likely creme de cacao), oak notes reminiscent of bourbon, and a hint of almond suggesting something similar to Frangelico in the mix. This is great by itself or with coffee, makes a nice option to Kahlua and cream, or mix with flavored vodka (raspberry or orange work well) and coconut cream to make a Dutch chocolate-flavored "martini".

You can also mix the two together with other mixers to create your own cocktails. The BOS website has a page dedicated to recipe ideas and a separate page for cooking recipes. Schiller and his partners have put some effort to keeping the memory of the Bucket O' Suds alive. So try one of the flavors and remember that when you're drinking "Alumni" or "Auburn" you're honoring the memory of a Chicago legend.

Joe Danno Photo courtesy of BOS Distilling Website. Bucket O' Suds memorabilia credit goes to the LTH Forum.