The Basics Drinking Out

Try the Best Smoky Cocktails from Chicago Bartenders

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Whiskey Business

This kitschy bar is packed with memorabilia that pays homage to the ’80s and ’90s and offers tons of distinct types of French fries. But the highlight might be the creations of bartender Mike Finnegan, who was featured in the Smoky Malt Cocktail Challenge on the strength of his subtle and delicious recipe, the Sunset Solstice.


If you’re looking for a bar with breathtaking views and a great ambiance, it’s tough to beat the rooftop of the Virgin Hotel. And the cocktails from Amanda Hiler are just as big of a draw. Her original recipe, the Thyme After Thyme, made a big time splash in the Smoky Malt Cocktail Challenge.

The Dawson

They take the craft of food, cocktails and hospitality seriously here. The bi-level setting is perfect for a happy hour, private event or a handcrafted cocktail from Aaron Pollack. It’s the home bar of this Smoky Malt Cocktail Challenge featured bartender, and he’s pouring drinks on par with his new smoky classic, A Calm Before the Storm.


This hip and offbeat cocktail lounge is getting a reputation for its decadent and delicious bar food. But that shouldn’t overshadow the craft cocktails from bartenders like Dustin Drankiewicz. His original recipe, This City’s on Fire, earned him acclaim in the Smoky Malt Cocktail Challenge, but it’s not his only groundbreaking creation.

Dinotto Pizza e Vino

There’s more than pizza and wine at this family-owned Italian restaurant in Old Town. It also features cocktails from Jesse Filkins, who recently made his mark in the Smoky Malt Cocktail Challenge. His original recipe, the Back from Heaven ’97, was selected as one of the best in the national competition.

London House

Every detail was considered when renovating this historic building and creating one of Chicago’s best hotels. The same effort goes into the cocktails offered on the premises, thanks in large part to Adam Peabody. His considerable skill has made it a hub of great cocktails, and his Islay Breeze got him featured in the Smoky Malt Cocktail Challenge.

Revival Café-Bar

Escape the bustle and traffic at this downtown oasis. It offers treats from the bakery, high-quality coffee and cocktails, along with some delicious coffee cocktails. Know that the drinks will all be top-notch, since it’s the home bar of Michael Huebner, the Chicago champion of the Smoky Malt Cocktail Challenge and creator of smoky masterpiece the Bonfire Banana Alexander.

Rhyme or Reason

“Fresh retro” is the theme of this restaurant, bar and music venue. Live performances, a DJ booth set up for vinyl and the best ingredients make sure this throwback spot never gets stale. Chris Kyles, featured in the Smoky Malt Cocktail Challenge and the creator of the Burning Man cocktail, makes sure the bar menu stays as fresh as the music.

ROOF at theWit

TheWit Hotel’s hot spot on the 27th floor is worth visiting for the skyline views alone. Throw in Piers Smyth working behind the bar, and it’s a can’t-miss destination for scotch lovers. Smyth’s original cocktail, The Treat of the Union, earned him a featured spot in the Smoky Malt Cocktail Challenge.

Room 13

It’s The Old Chicago Inn’s very own speakeasy, where the Prohibition era is brought to life with historically rich cocktails from bartender Luke Nevin-Gattle. Camp Ardbeg, the original recipe that earned him acclaim in the Smoky Malt Cocktail Challenge, is just one example of his innovative and singular style.

Spilt Milk

This 1920s pharmacy turned cocktail bar offers elegant originals in a laid-back environment. It’s also the home bar of Tyler Fry, who wowed judges in the Smoky Malt Cocktail Challenge with his standout original recipe, the Burns by Night.

312 Chicago

Dinner and drinks complement each other quite well at this contemporary Italian restaurant. Chef Luca Corazzina’s house-made pastas and creative antipasti are the perfect match for the handcrafted cocktails from Jennifer Knott, who made a star turn in the Smoky Malt Cocktail Challenge with her delectable recipe, the Smokin’ Eyes.

Travelle Kitchen + Bar

Tucked inside the second floor of The Langham hotel, this restaurant features a contemporary interpretation of seasonal American cuisine. And don’t forget about the cocktails. James Urycki, featured prominently in the Smoky Malt Cocktail Challenge for his Islay Bananas & Scotch, is often mixing up something special behind the bar.

Untitled Supper Club

This intimate bar and restaurant doesn’t need a sign to stand out. The food, drinks and décor are worth the search. You might even find Egor Polonksiy behind the bar, mixing up one of his acclaimed cocktails. He brings the same skill and technique to his home bar as the Smoky Malt Cocktail Challenge, where his Beatha was prominently featured.