The Aviation and Winter Pimm's cup cocktail jello shots at The Dawson. (Kaitlyn McQuaid/For RedEye )
Though most of us were conditioned during our early drinking years to throw shots down our throats as quickly as possible--and chase them with a beer back--it's time to pause and reconsider the humble shot. Some of Chicago's most notable new bars have turned these petite pours into miniature cocktails by infusing and blending liquors, garnishing the glass and even experimenting with gourmet Jell-O shots. The results are playful but grown-up, an encapsulation of the high-low swag that has spelled instant success for spots such as The Whistler and Bar Deville. Here are four new composed shots to try--pinkies up. firstname.lastname@example.org | @redeyeeatdrink
Old fashioned shot ($5) at Analogue
2523 N. Milwaukee Ave. 773-904-8567
You know the tequila shot drill: lick the salt, take the shot, suck the lime wedge. Now replace the bottom-shelf tequila with whiskey, the salt with raw brown sugar (from a salt shaker) and the lime with a slice of angostura bitters-soaked orange, and you have the old fashioned shot at new Logan Square bar Analogue. Partners and bartenders Henry Prendergast and Robert F. Haynes III (both formerly of The Violet Hour) intend the shot to be "a little silly," but still recognizable as the flavors of an old fashioned cocktail. "The old fashioned is a bit of a sacred cow," Prendergast said. "We want to show that it's fun."
Daily-changing Dr. Bombay shot ($5) at The Dawson
730 W. Grand Ave. 312-243-8955
One look at beverage director Annemarie Sagoi's off-menu Jell-O shots and you'll realize you're definitely not in college anymore. She uses candy and truffle molds, citrus rinds and even lollipop sticks to dress up her creations, which generally have the flavors of classic cocktails. "It's a fun, playful way to consume a cocktail that isn't an entire cocktail," Sagoi said. Past offerings have included a deconstructed margarita made of small spheres of liquid as well as a Jell-O version of a Pimm's Cup cocktail. And no, not all of her mad science experiments work out. "There was a huge learning curve starting out," Sagoi said. "A lot of liquid just will not let Jell-O set." Curious to see what she's whipped up that day? Just ask for the daily Dr. Bombay shot.
Composed shots ($4-$5) at The Revel Room
1566 N. Milwaukee Ave. 773-278-1600
Inspired by composed shots (think mini-versions of classic cocktails) that he had in Seattle, as well as the Southern-style shooters he had in Louisville, Ky., (think blue curacao and lots of vodka), The Revel Room's Ronnie Higgins designed his rotating composed shots to be "a little more approachable than a cocktail." His first version is a play on the ubiquitous Fireball cinnamon whiskey, made with bourbon, lemon juice, cherry liqueur, cinnamon and star anise. It's pre-mixed and served from a tap so it's as quick to pour as a regular shot, but tastes fresher than a bottled, artificially flavored liquor. Expect new varieties to hit the menu in the coming weeks.
Blended amaro shot ($4) at Sportsman's Club
948 N. Western Ave. 872-206-8054
That machine at the corner of the bar? That's Amaro Stoudemire. He dispenses amaro ... you get it. Imagine a Jager machine, but pouring a blend of bitter and botanical Italian liqueurs. Amaro comes in many varieties, each with its own flavors and characteristics, ranging from slightly spicy to floral to minty. Bartenders Wade McElroy and Jeff Donahue (both alums of The Barrelhouse Flat) adjust the blend of amaros in the machine daily, so it might contain more Cynar one day, for example, and more Averna the next. Because amaro is relatively low-proof, the shot is an appropriate way to ease into the more substantial cocktails that make up the menu at this new Humboldt Park tavern. "People most likely are going to be coming in here to do some serious drinking after they've already been out to eat," McElroy said. "So having a digestif readily available is a nice thing to ease into the drinking section of the evening."