Do you really need an excuse to drink a margarita during the summer? Didn't think so. Tailor-made to banish heat and humidity, this simple cocktail—at its most basic, a margarita is just tequila, triple sec and lime juice—gets a flavor boost courtesy of creative bartenders around town. If your go-to is a traditional margarita on the rocks, mix it up with a floral version. If you're not a fan of sweet drinks, try a smoky, mezcal-laced margarita or one garnished with garden-fresh herbs. And if you're just looking for something to cool you down and get you tipsy, yes, there's a margarita for that, too. email@example.com @redeyeeatdrink
Gypsy ($9) at Masa Azul 2901 W. Diversey Ave. 773-687-0300
Given this Logan Square restaurant's focus on all things tequila, it's no surprise that its bartenders make a heck of a margarita. But it's the Gypsy, a sugar-and-spice-rimmed riff on the cocktail, that's one of the bar's top sellers. "The goal is to get away from what every tequila bar is doing, making 50 renditions of the margarita," owner Jason Lerner said. "The Gypsy is in that margarita style, but it's stepping forward a bit." The surprise comes from the addition of maraschino liqueur, an earthy distillation that actually is more complex and funky than it is sweet, and from a habanero-and-green chili sugar rim. "It gives a spicy-sweet component," Lerner said. "It's a mild kick that adds to the whole experience of the drink." For added elegance, Masa Azul serves the Gypsy in vintage coupe glasses collected by the owner and his mother-in-law.
High-Octane margarita ($12) at D.S. Tequila Company 3352 N. Halsted St. 773-697-9127
If tequila isn't enough party fuel for you, allow this rocking Boystown bar to add a boost to your cup. All of D.S. Tequila Company's shaken margaritas begin with their proprietary tequila, which is distilled from 8- to 10-year-old agave plants. "It's definitely the smoothest type of tequila we can find," said co-owner John Dalton. "And the longer the agave grows, the more of a balanced and smooth taste it will have rather than that sharp, gasoline flavor that you can have if you don't grow it properly." Then, bartenders add a higher-proof grain alcohol to up the booziness. "The blanco tequila is so smooth that some people are not really tasting the kick, so we've just enhanced it," Dalton said. As proof of their potency, the bar limits guests to two of these 16-ounce pumped-up margaritas per day.
Bulldog-Garita ($15) at El Hefe Super Macho Taqueria 15 W. Hubbard St. 312-548-6841
Billy's Beerita ($15) at Ay Chiwowa 311 W. Chicago Ave. 312-643-3200
Cocktail or beer? No, my friends, cocktail AND beer. These awesome-to-look-at, difficult-to-maneuver duos popped up across the city this year, notably at River North party bars El Hefe and Ay Chiwowa. Both invert mini-Corona bottles into house margaritas, adding a bit of carbonation and lessening the sweetness of a bowl full of margarita. Keep the bottle in the drink until you've sipped some of the liquid down, or risk spilling beer all over yourself.
Rosemary's margarita ($12) at Antique Taco 1360 N. Milwaukee Ave. 773-687-8697
If not for the branch of fresh rosemary springing from each glass, you might not be able to name the slightly herbal flavor of this Wicker Park taqueria's margaritas. "It's more on the subtle side. Because we infuse the rosemary in the simple syrup, you taste the rosemary and the sweetness at the same time," manager Madeleine Suter said. Matched with fresh-squeezed lime and orange juices, it makes for the ideal summer complement to chef Rick Ortiz's food. "The margarita has that sweet and salty taste to it, and I think that Rick tries to incorporate those things into each of his menu items. It's also thirst-quenching and goes well with spice." Order the margarita by the pint ($12) or quart ($23)—and don't forget to share.
High Noon margarita ($8) at High Noon Saloon 1560 N. Milwaukee Ave. 773-227-9339
Staff at this 5-month-old Mexican-leaning sports bar in Wicker Park still have to give customers a bit of an introduction to mezcal, the agave-distilled liquor that adds a smoky flavor to the house margarita, which also includes blanco tequila and agave nectar. "Mezcal has a bad rap to it. People are like 'That's the one that has the worm in it, right?'" said general manager Ryan Yates. While a squirm-inducing worm does accompany some cheaper mezcals, Yates clarifies that High Noon uses a premium mezcal that adds an earthy flavor to drinks. And it's catching on. "Mezcal is starting to become more popular. We've started noticing people coming in just to do shots of it." If that still doesn't convince you, High Noon also serves mango, strawberry and acai margaritas mixed sans mezcal.
Hibiscus margarita ($8) at Del Toro 2133 S. Halsted St. 312-733-7144
Customers at this Pilsen hangout often ask about the eye-catching bottle of pink tequila behind the bar. It's Gran Centenario Rosangel, a hibiscus-infused tequila that's finished in port wine barrels, and it's the star of the hibiscus margarita, a deep red summer standout that also includes hibiscus syrup, orange liqueur and lime juice. "By itself, the tequila actually is recognized almost as a digestif, because it is floral and a bit herbaceous and a little sweet at the end," said Andy Garcia, whose family owns the bar and next-door store F&R Liquors. "When people are eating, they want something just to have at the end of the meal to make everything just settle." A margarita that can settle the stomach? Garcia said not to knock it until you try it.
Mark your calendar: National Tequila Day is July 24. Cheers!
Want more? Discuss this article and others on RedEye's Facebook page.