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Hubbard Inn's Cocktail Program Shines

By Roger Kamholz in Food on Mar 2, 2011 8:00PM

Last month, the online culinary magazine Star Chefs posted a glowing assessment of Chicago's craft-cocktail scene. Noting how far things have come in recent years, the article charts a course from circa-2005 cran-apple Martinis rimmed with graham-cracker crust to artisanal creations like Bristol mixologist Debbi Peek's Smoked Sicilian Manhattan made with house-cured cherries. Indeed, the city's growing cohort of talented barkeeps are presenting more thoughtful and refined drinks, and we patrons have responded with approving slurps. And although "Chicago Mixology's Night and Day Transformation" may not say so explicitly, the story goes far to explain the deliciousness afoot at Hubbard Inn.

Just a few years ago, we'd probably be right to not expect an ambitious and innovative cocktail menu from a restaurant like Hubbard Inn, a tasty newcomer to the River North dining circuit. The taverny atmosphere, albeit exceedingly smart and hip, suggests maybe some good beers on tap and a few flavored Martinis, sure. But wait, they're featuring a Pegu Club? News of this warranted some investigation.

The menu favors what the restaurant calls mid-century classics. If the list leans in any direction, it's toward bright, citrusy selections. Besides the aforementioned, you can sip on a Sazerac, a Southside, and original creations like the River North Smash, Rested Julep and Devils Flip. On our visits, we've been very impressed by what might be the bar's unofficial signature drink, the Hemingway (the owners have cited the writer's style and exploits as inspiration for the d├ęcor). Flavors of rum, lime, grapefruit and cherry liqueur gently waver between citrusy and sweet, keeping you interested 'til the last drop. The assertive, gin-forward Pegu Club is also superb. Our only disappointment was the Devils Flip, which, despite looking handsome in the glass with its egg-white-froth top, was dead on arrival flavor-wise; it tasted oddly bland and watered down, and the inclusion of egg white, which typically adds a pleasing texture to a drink, produced a overly thick head but left the liquid thin. That said, it was one bunt among homers.

So what gives? Well, 312 Dining Diva broke news on Valentine's Day that the owners had tapped Boka's Banjamin Schiller to help develop Hubbard Inn's debut cocktail menu and train its bar staff. To us, this reads as yet another promising development in the trend toward craft cocktails in Chicago. More and more, casual and fine-dining restaurants alike have watched the rising tide and now want to climb aboard the boat; in other words, they want the offerings from behind the bar to be on pace with those leaving the kitchen. We say cheers to that.

Hubbard Inn is located at 110 West Hubbard Street.