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New Rooftop Spot In The Loop Will Serve Authentic South American Cocktails

By Anthony Todd in Food on Aug 23, 2016 1:41PM

The Pisco Sour at Boleo. Photo courtesy of Boleo.

Atop the new Kimpton Gray hotel on Monroe Street, a South American paradise has been taking shape over the past several months. Boleo, a restaurant and rooftop bar inspired by the cuisines and cocktails of Peru and Argentina, is poised to become a next big Loop hotspot. At least on the drink side, that potential is thanks to the hard work and creativity of mixologist Jessica Lambert.

While you're sipping the perfect drink under the late-summer sky (Boleo has a retractable roof on top of a soaring two-story atrium), palm trees will provide shade, South American music will make you want to get up and dance, and the cocktails will, hopefully, provide you with the courage. Lambert, along with Sable and Violet Hour alum Mike Ryan, who runs the Kimpton cocktail program, travelled to South America for inspiration and research, so their drinks will reach a level of authenticity not often seen in Chicago.

Take the humble pisco sour, the national drink of Peru and Chile. Most pisco sours that I've had in Chicago are an indifferent mix of whatever pisco happens to be on the back bar, some lime juice and a bunch of egg white. Lambert is committed to doing it right.

"In Peru, I met the founder of Pisco Porton, and he taught me how to make his perfect Pisco sour," she said.

He taught her that the perfect cocktail requires a blend of piscos, known as an "Achelado," to get that perfect flavor. So Lambert has created a house achelado, a mix of three different types of pisco which results in a balanced, fruit-forward flavor. No, I can't tell you what they are—it's a house secret. She's even gone authentic with the citrus, once Lambert realized that the citrus available in the Amazon region didn't match American (or Mexican) limes. Instead, she blends different lime varieties and test for acidity and sugar to create the perfect match. The menu has a huge selection of obscure South American spirits that are being blended, often several at a time, into the cocktails to provide complexity and depth.

Lambert mixing up a coconut negroni. Photo courtesy of Boleo.

This slightly obsessive tendency bleeds into all of Lambert's cocktails.

"I read cookbooks to develop cocktail recipes, because the chefs really know how to develop recipes," Lambert said. She makes complicated syrups that take days, she crafts infusions, roasts corn flakes to make "cereal milk" and plays with many other techniques of modern cocktailing, but with a fun and curiosity that is totally infectious. The entire program at Boleo is infused with a sense of "huh, what would happen if I tried this crazy thing?" that will lead to some great cocktails.

A coconut negroni turns the classic on its head, inspired by some of the attempts at infusing the flavors from meats into cocktails, a technique called "fat-washing." Instead of doing this with bacon or butter, Lambert uses coconut, infusing the spirits with the coconut fat, then freezing it and straining out any remaining residue. The resulting drink is a combination of the bitterness of campari with the richness of coconut, and is totally unlike any drink I've had before. "I take a culinary and experiential approach to my cocktails. I want to transport you somewhere, I want you to feel something," said Lambert.

Lambert entered the craft cocktail world about four years ago while living in Phoenix. That's when she met Ryan, by that time a pretty famous bartender working to improve Kimpton's cocktail programs nationwide. "Mike actually messed up my bar," laughed Lambert. "He ended up staying and helping me re-prep and ended up barbacking for me, and became a real mentor to me." After stints in Chicago at The Dawson and at Sable, Boleo is Lambert's first chance to bring her own vision to a menu.

Despite the rooftop setting (and the occasionally ridiculous name like #bootytext or "adulting is hard") the cocktails here are serious and complicated. Take that "Adulting is hard," a phrase that comes from one of Lambert's cocktail-slinging roommates. It's an intense and funky mix of rum, aged pisco (try finding that anywhere else in the city), sherry, and homemade chai-spiced cereal milk. The whole thing is topped with a secret ingredient: grated black lime. It's both refreshingly easy to gulp down and surprisingly sophisticated, which are the two qualities that run throughout this menu.

Not everything at Boleo is crafted to order—there's a whole series of cocktails on tap, including a rotating series of fernet and cola blends, inspired by Argentina, and a menu of "chilcanos," infused piscos paired with a homemade ginger ale.

Lambert's drinks have an incredible amount of heart. When describing the "Life Itself," a combination of Plantation Pineapple Rum, mate syrup and lime, she almost tears up when describing her first encounter with the rum while she was apprenticing at Tales of the Cocktail. While she was there, she was given one of the 70 first bottles of this rum and has kept it to share with special friends on special occasions. "We would pour it out just for really special people," Lambert explained. She called drinks made with the spirit her "friendship daiquiris." Now, she's got her chance to become friends with the entire Chicago drinking scene. I have a feeling she's gonna do just fine.

Boleo opens for business on Wednesday.