If you want to be a professional surfer, it helps to live in Hawaii or Southern California. And if you want to be an all-star bartender, it helps to live in New York or San Francisco. But Charles Joly has been working to add another locale to that list: Chicago.
As chief mixologist at the acclaimed Drawing Room (and a native Chicagoan), Joly helped put the Windy City on the drinks map. “I truly feel like Chicago’s cocktail scene is leading the charge alongside other great cities in the country,” he says. “I proudly call Chicago home and love being an ambassador for this city.”
And in bartending competitions, he has proved over and over again that his concoctions are as good as any produced on either coast: He’s won more than his fair share, including The Auchentoshan Switch. “I have a strong seasonal focus, expanding beyond available produce into flavor profiles that make sense for the time of year,” Joly says.
“I’m never overly fussy with cocktails and prefer to keep it simple,” he says. That philosophy also allowed him to take first prize on the NBC reality show On the Rocks, which featured top talent from around the country, and garnered him a semifinalist nod for the James Beard Foundation’s Wine & Spirits Professional Award.
But earlier this summer, he stunned his fans by announcing that he would be teaming up with culinary sensation Grant Achatz and taking the beverage director position at the celebrity chef’s lauded—and experimental—The Aviary.
Just a few days on the job and Joly seems to be comfortable already. “The big difference here is that most bar programs have to make choices that are dictated by execution, time, ingredients, man power,” he says. “This is the perfect situation, with no limitations.”
Those are conditions that just might attract bartenders from New York and San Francisco. I guess it’s time to check the waves on Lake Michigan.
Jeffery Lindenmuth is an accomplished freelance writer who lives in Pennsylvania.
(Photo courtesy Danny Valdez)