Chicago has long boasted some of the most respected cocktail bars in the nation - names like The Violet Hour and Aviary top many lists. But what about the city's crop of newer bars? We asked Brandon Phillips, barman and partner at The Duck Inn, a longtime mixologist about to open a new venue of his own: Otto Mezzo, a late-night Italian cocktail bar with wide-ranging selections of amari, grappa, Italian wine, and more. Where does Phillips find himself when not at his own operations (or his favorite under-sung neighborhood bar, Bernice's Tavern in Bridgeport)? Here are his picks. -Carey Jones
“The name says it all,” says Phillips of the new industry favorite in the Ukrainian Village; “It’s a quick and ‘ez’ choice for where to hang. Great music, cold beers, cocktails for drinkin’ and shots for shootin’, served in a polished, ‘70s-style tavern.” And you’ll know owner Isaac Liberman by his can’t-miss-it mustache.
As a music obsessive, Phillips appreciates the attention to sound at this Logan Square bar — “It’s right at the top of the list when it comes to sonically focused bars in Chicago.” Partner Dustin Drankiewicz is behind the list of well-made, straightforward cocktails at the repurposed dive. “And Dustin and I were both born and raised in Wisconsin, so it doesn’t hurt that I can get a proper butter burger late night.”
“Built into a financial library in The Gray Hotel, Vol. 39 feels like something out of a movie,” says Phillips. “Somewhere between The Shining, Wall Street, and Dr. No.” Drinks of choice from Robert Murphy behind the bar: anything from high-end Old-Fashioned variations to a $45 Mudslide (which, Phillips vouches, is delicious). “Possibly more than at any other in the city, I feel very cool when I sit at this bar.”
Despite the Michelin-starred restaurant above it, there’s no trace of pretension at this West Loop bar, according to Phillips. “Thanks to head bartender Roger Landes and his team, it’s chill and approachable, with outstanding cocktails. Come here once and you’ll feel like family.” And with or without cocktails, the fried chicken smothered in chicken liver mousse “may be the most underrated bird in the city.”