When looking for a new watering hole, we prefer to get recommendations from arbiters of taste, food and drink professionals who know a great spot when they see it. To get a sense of what’s exciting in the Chicago scene now, we asked veteran Chicago chef John Manion, who owns the acclaimed Fulton Market District Brazilian spot La Sirena Clandestinaand soon-to-open El Che Bar a few blocks away in the West Loop, what and where he drinks.
What is your drink of choice?
For me, there are three categories of drinking. When you’re working the line, that would be a beer of no consequence. After service, I end up with some sort of liquor neat, and [what I choose] changes according to the weather or mood. Hot would usually be mezcal or tequila. Cold is American whiskey: bourbon or rye. And third: you have your cocktail. My default is a Manhattan with rye.
Where do you like to drink when you’re not at work?
In the neighborhood where I live [Wicker Park] is Gold Star or Rainbo Club. I like the Matchbox and Sportsman’s Club. I like to drink in restaurants if it’s not too late, like Maude’s. I really enjoy the [California] Clipper. I like Rootstock. I love the bar at Trenchermen. I like drinking at Big Star. That’s a very specific experience. If you’re in the restaurant business, you can’t go to Big Star and—you’re going to get fucked up. It’s normal to drink both tequila and whiskey in the same sitting. You’ll sit down and get a pitcher of Margaritas, then someone will send you a shot of whiskey. It’s a recipe for disaster, but when you go there you know what you’re getting into.
What do you drink when you’re traveling?
When I’m traveling, I go with the flow. Sixteen years ago was the first time I came about Fernet Branca and Coke. I was in Argentina. I knew nothing about Fernet, no one did. I went to this bar that ended up being my favorite bar in the world, Dadá. I got to know the owner, Paolo, and he said this is what they drink. So we drank it the whole time we were there. I only discovered that drink because of traveling. I think you’re wise to go down that road when you travel. Go with the flow. You’re going to discover things that you wouldn’t otherwise. Some you’ll like, some you won’t. That’s how you learn things.
Are you a traditionalist when it comes to cocktails or do you like to try new concoctions?
I will look at the list and if there’s something appealing, I’ll go for it. In terms of the cocktails and people who are talented and pushing the envelope, that’s an experience I’m looking for. I normally know what I like, but other times I’ll walk in and ask what they’re working on. We’re living in an interesting time with a lot of talented people doing cool shit, but there are a bunch of people who think they know what they’re doing [who don’t]. The people who are really good, it’s a pleasure to sit at their bar.
Anything you’ve discovered?
About two years ago at Sable (in Chicago) I had a Spanish Gin and Tonic. It had rosemary in it and was in a big goblet and it was fucking delicious. When I was in Buenos Aires recently, we had Havana Club Rum Old Fashioneds. Good god man, just delicious.
When you’re having a dinner party, what do you like to start people off with?
There’s one on our list that I’m kind of stuck on and it’s what I’ve been drinking. It’s called the Sticky Pot. It’s close in spirit to the Rum Old Fashioned. It’s made with Jamaican pot-still rum, black strap rum and Ancho Reyes liqueur. People either love it or hate it—I love it.