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Review: The Berkshire Room

Bet the house on The Berkshire Room's dealer's choice drinks

July 16, 2013|By Kate Bernot, @kbernot, RedEye | RedEye

Review: The Berkshire Room

15 E. Ohio St. 312-894-0800

Rating: !!!! (out of 4) Already hot

Whichever parts of my personality are still in flux as I careen through my mid-20s, this much is certain: I know I like gin and I know I like classic cocktails made with egg whites. This means I order a lot of Clover Clubs. Like, a lot a lot. Most of us have these go-to drinks, the cocktail safety blankets we reach for and hug close when we're intimidated by a menu or when we're just not feeling adventurous. Taking up one third of the menu, The Berkshire Room's dealer's choice cocktails—choose your base spirit, a flavor and a type of glass—are designed to take you by the hand and—gently, mind you—lead you outside that comfort zone. But could this brand-new bar inside the Acme Hotel, captained by a hotshot bartender, simultaneously feel welcoming and push my boundaries a bit? It's a tall order, especially in saturated cocktail 'hood River North, where Sable Kitchen & Bar and Watershed are both a block away. Thirsty and curious, I took a gamble. | @redeyeeatdrink

You're in good hands.

Whether you choose a dealer's choice cocktail or a signature cocktail off the menu, you want to know someone capable is manning the cocktail shaker. Luckily, behind The Berkshire Room's deep, back-lit bar stands Benjamin Schiller, the former head mixologist for Boka Group's restaurants, including Girl & The Goat and GT Fish & Oyster. While he's one of the most prominent cocktail-slingers in the business, he's as friendly as any neighborhood bartender. "We're bartenders first and foremost," Schiller said. "We wanted to put the emphasis on our guest and have old-school service style." He's succeeded. Everyone from Schiller's supporting bartenders to the polished hostesses is polite, chatty and warm. Even if you're a local, this hotel bar offers a hearty welcome to your own city.

Relinquish just a bit of control.

All right, here was the moment of truth. I stared down at the description of the dealer's choice cocktails, turned to my server and offered the challenge: "I want a gin cocktail, with egg whites." She considered my request, but didn't offer the traditional Clover Club. Instead, she said, Schiller could mix up something fruity and a bit herbal. Was I interested? You bet I was. The resulting drink, a jewel-toned raspberry stunner served in an elegant coupe glass with a halo of frothy egg white, was dead-on. Like a former flame you haven't seen in a while, the drink reminded me of the reasons I fell in love with the Clover Club, but also had enough new twists to render it quite changed. Tiptoeing outside my comfort zone had indeed paid off.

Try the signature cocktails, too.

By your second or third drink, maybe give the bartenders a break from the crazy cocktail requests. While the dealer's choice cocktails have been more popular than Schiller imagined—representing about half of all the cocktails sold—their novelty shouldn't discourage you from also trying the range of cocktails printed on the menu. From the left-hand column, I especially enjoyed the Nepi ($12), an effervescent, slightly sweet refresher that included a honey-tea syrup as a foil for the bitterness of the base spirit, amaro. Under the barrel-aged cocktail section, the Continuous Negroni ($15), so named because the coveted Pappy Van Winkle whiskey barrel is refilled with more negroni liquid as soon as some is removed, is a rounded, woody version of this bittersweet, so-hot-right-now cocktail. Lastly, make sure to end the night with a Weston ($12). The predominant flavor is wheated bourbon—a type of whiskey with a smoother, less spicy character—and a kiss of coffee flavor and pipe tobacco conjure the atmosphere of retiring to a smoky library of high-back leather chairs and flickering candles.

Sit back and relax.

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