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2 Chicago Cocktail Spots Among Best Bars In The U.S., Esquire Says

By Stephen Gossett in Food on May 25, 2017 7:11PM

Paul McGee behind the bar at Milk Room. Photo by Clayton Hauck.

More than just a beer lover's playground, Chicago is justly celebrated as a craft cocktail valhalla. One of the folks responsible for helping usher in that boozy renaissance is Paul McGee—and he just got a huge co-sign from the writers at Esquire. In the magazine's roundup of the 24 Best Bars In America In 2017, two of McGee's acclaimed hotspots—Milk Room and Lost Lake—met the steep bar.

It's hard to argue with either choice. Milk Room—the ticketed mindblower hidden away on the second floor of the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel—more than once wowed our food and drinks writer, who twice called it the best bar in the city.

Esquire praised it thusly:

"Milk Room is a tiny altar to the heady, rarefied world of vintage spirits and amaros. The Campari and Fernet from the '70s that are used in some of the cocktails are gentler—modern versions use extracts; not so much back then, the bartender tells me. A 1927 Old Hermitage sour-mash whiskey had a whiff of funk and an uncanny roundness—this is what history tastes like."

The other Chicago choice, Lost Lake, is McGee's also-much-celebrated tiki concept. Among its previous accolades were a Cocktail Bar of the Year designation, in 2015, by Imbibe Magazine; and just this year it landed some James Beard Award love.

Esquire's hosannas read in part:

"There's just enough fantasy—Martinique wallpaper, staff in tropical shirts, a graphic, kitschy menu—but the real transportation happens in the glass, with the intricate play of a broad spectrum of rums and fresh juices."

McGee become known to most Chicago drinkers when he manned the bar at The Whistler, which he left in 2012. He's also Beverage Director for Land and Sea Dept. (Both Milk Room and Lost Lake are Land and Sea Dept. ventures also.)

Along with Pittsburgh (two selections) and New York City (five, or six if you count Brooklyn), Chicago is the only city with more than one bar represented on the Esquire list. Cheers to that.