How To Find Really Old (And Pricey) Booze In Chicago
By Anthony Todd in Food on Jun 16, 2016 4:53PM
Paul McGee behind the bar at Milk Room. Photo by Clayton Hauck.
Vintage spirits are all the rage these days. Yesterday, the Tribune reported on Steadfast, the newest spot from the Fifty/50 Group coming to the Loop, which will feature antique spirits, including 20 bottles from the '30s to the '70s.
But Steadfast is only the latest entry in what has become a trend: bars serving (and stores selling) antique, one-of-a-kind spirits. These vintage bottles are irreplaceable, and the prices charged for a pour often reflect that. But if you're a spirits geek and have the money, there's no reason to wait. Especially as more and more of these spots open, the available stocks will start to dwindle fast.
Here are some great spots to get vintage spirits.
One of the first bars in Chicago to start working with obscure vintage spirits, Billy Sunday is also unique in that it doesn't just focus on bourbon. Most bars with vintage collections are whiskey-focused, but Billy Sunday is particularly rich in antique scotches and amari (bitter Italian liqueur). Our favorite part about this quirky selection is that you can get a taste of some seriously old liquor (think 1940s) at a price that won't blow your wallet apart, because old amari just aren't that crazy expensive.
Longman has a great antique whiskey program, including some very old bourbons bottled as far back as the 1960s. You'll pay for it (an ounce of Old Fitzgerald bottled in 1969 costs $250) but there aren't many places in the city that you can get food this good and spirits this rare.
If you're at all geeky about these old spirits, you have to get on the Sole Agent mailing list. They're not a bar, they're a distributor and purveyor of unique bottles, but even if you can't afford to buy what they're selling, their emails are works of art. They usually contain extensive histories, complete with photos, of the bottles on offer. A recent email bragged about 1960s Cynar (a bottle was on sale for $200) and contained a complete history of the artichoke-derived spirit.
Frankly, there's not much left for us to say about this amazing bar, as we've reviewed it twice. The cocktails are astonishingly good, the bartenders let you take sips of super-old liqueurs, and because it's so small and quiet, it's the only place on this list where you can really focus on what you're drinking (and where you can spend serious time talking about it with the mixers). They also serve old stuff that isn't whiskey, like pre-embargo cuban rum, British navy grog, and liqueurs made by monks before World War II. The only downside is that you have to get a ticket in advance.
Steadfast isn't the Fifty/50 Group's first foray into antique spirits. The Berkshire Room, also helmed by Ben Schiller, boasts a gorgeous collection of antique whiskeys. Want a pour of 1942 Old Granddad whiskey? It'll cost you $225. Their menu is also arranged by distillery, which makes it easy to read and compare, as well as to create impromptu tasting flights (if you happen to have no limit on your credit card).