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Are fancy cocktails really so crafty?

  • Cosmopolitan cocktails
Cosmopolitan cocktails (Milan Zeremski / Getty Images/Vetta )
May 29, 2014|Annie Reed, @annie_e_313

Chicago bars have gotten pretty sexy. We’ve got “cocktail programs” and “mixologists” and whiskey drinks infused with tobacco. Between the orchid garnishes, the candle-lit nooks and the vintage chandeliers, it’s all so charming and boozy and ... wait is THAT my bar tab? When did happy hour start costing more than dinner? 

While I adore many aspects of the craft cocktail trend—particularly any drink infused with serrano peppers—at times I wonder whether blowing this much of my disposable income is appropriate at this stage in my life. Now that I’m nearing 30, I have developed some pretty sophisticated tastes, but I also have accrued some sophisticated law school debt along the way. Can I really justify indulging in these expensive drinks?

Honestly, I don’t know the answer. But I’ll put on my “zealous advocate” cap for each side of the debate and let you pick the winning argument.

Dating drinks

Pro: Bars that serve craft cocktails are perfect for a date. These places ooze the sex appeal that you were going for but didn’t quite achieve. And the drinks? Sure, they will cost you between $9-$15 apiece, but boy are they boozy. 

Con: Are you high? You just spent $80 on four drinks and an appetizer, and you haven’t even bought her dinner yet. This girl is going home to maul a burrito and sleep alone, because those drinks were strong. 

Young and professional

Pro: College is over. You have a real job and you live in a real city, so it’s time to start playing the role of good-looking young professional imbibing in a respectable establishment. You are young and pretty and must try all the things. You won’t be able to justify it when the babies arrive in a few years.

Con: Amid all the well-deserved self-accolades, it pains me to remind you that you still live with roommates. Perhaps that pricey concoction could be put toward a down payment? Or were you planning to live with roommates through your 30s as well?

Quality costs

Pro: Artisanal cocktails contain high-quality ingredients, are crafted by highly trained bartenders and are served in a sleek setting. It adds up. If you want to drink well in River North, get ready to pay $10-$15. Bottom line: You get what you pay for.

Con: Actually, that’s not always true. A drink made with Very Old Barton bourbon sounded fancy, until I realized that the stuff retails for about $12 a bottle. Also, you’ve been known to drink PBR, so you might not be the authority on quality.

Bang for the buck

Pro: A smart friend of mine once disclosed her method for ordering craft beers: “I look at the alcohol content and the price, and then choose the cheapest highest-alcohol beer.” Genius. Unfortunately, that strategy can prove difficult when applied to cocktails. Some places get this, selling drinks that are three times as powerful for the same price as the watered-down version. Mathematically speaking, that’s called a deal.

Con: Oh, we are doing math? Sip on these numbers: You can buy a fifth of decent whiskey for $20 and make 10 drinks for the price of two or three craft cocktails. Game, set, match.

Annie Reed is a RedEye special contributor.

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