Violet Hour

Chicago may be a beer city, but it also has many places to go to for great cocktail. Whether you're a die-hard whiskey snob or can't get enough gin, Chicago has a cocktail bar serving up your spirit of choice and putting inventive things - like ambergris, flavored ice cubes, and scented air-in the highball glass.

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Sable Kitchen & Bar (505 N. State St.)

One of the best bartenders in the city (Mike Ryan) and one of the best chefs in the city (Heather Terhune) combine to make Sable Kitchen and Bar a must-visit for both culinary and cocktail aficionados. Ryan plays around with his large cocktail menu frequently, and just added a page of gin and tonics inspired by Spain's G & Ts, which use unexpected garnishes-think pineapple or rosemary. He's also into tiki drinks, and the menu includes pretty much any classic cocktail that you can imagine. Go a little hungry and order some of Terhune's food (like the fried cheese curds or veal meatballs) to snack on.

The Violet Hour (1520 N. Damen Ave.)

Violet Hour
With a no-standing and no-phone policy, The Violet Hour is where to head for a serious cocktail over quiet conversation. The doorway is shrouded in a curtain and candles provide flickering light. Either sit at the bar and whisper with the bartenders or find a cozy seat. The menu is divided up by spirit and features classics like Dark and Stormies and Old Fashioneds, plus specialty cocktails that change to match the season.

Billy Sunday (3143 W. Logan Blvd.) 

The Logan Square bar has a large selection of rare amari and Scotches. The cocktail list also features a number of gin cocktails, plus unusual ingredients, like ambergris, a substance formed inside whales. An edited food menu includes bar snacks, pickled things, a handful of entrees, and banana pudding.

Scofflaw (3201 W. Armitage)

Scofflaw's focus is gin, and you'll find lots of gin-based cocktails, like the Pellet Gun, with gin, lemon, Cynar, Jarritos strawberry soda, Peychaud's Bitters, and cucumber. But non-gin drinkers will also find excellent cocktails, like a rum swizzle and bitter bourbon drinks. Plus there's food, including a schnitzel sandwich, and free chocolate chip cookies at midnight.

Drumbar (201 E. Delaware Pl.) 

Drumbar

From classics like daiquiris and Palomas, to mango rum slushies, punch with pineapple ice, and housemade falernum, beverage director Craig Schoettler's rooftop drinking den is turning out exceptional libations. The menu also features rare Scotches from the Scotch Malt Whiskey Society, plus tiki drinks for sipping on the outdoor patio.

The Aviary (955 W. Fulton Market)

The Aviary, Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas' cocktail bar next door to Next, makes truly inventive cocktails, including one that's served in an ice ball that you break open with a slingshot. Charles Joly heads up the cocktail program, and while the drinks here cost more than any other cocktail bar in town, where else can you get a cocktail that's served with a plastic bag filled with scented air?

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