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Gideon Sweet’s shaved-ice sake boasts flavors of watermelon and salted peach. Photo by Matthias Merges

Small but Spirited

by Nicole Schnitzler | Men's Book Chicago magazine | August 13, 2018

Dishes for two and family-style platters might be of the moment in kitchens, but when it comes to the bar, bigger isn’t always better. Lately, Chicago mixologists have been delivering just the opposite, with small-format cocktails that offer just as much flavor and creativity as standard sippers—but at half the size.

At Radio Anago (226 W. Kinzie St.), the recently opened Japanese restaurant from Hogsalt Hospitality, that means 1-ounce pours of four classic concoctions, including a Negroni and Manhattan (all $7). “As a cocktail lover, your dinner and morning after can be affected if you’re having three or four cocktails,” says Beverage Director Jean Tomaro. “With these smaller tastes, you can try a bunch of different offerings in one sitting.”

Wade McElroy of Ludlow Liquors (2959 N. California Ave.) has experienced the full-sized cocktail conundrum firsthand. “When a friend in the industry puts out a new menu at their bar, I want to try everything—but it’s not possible to sit down and drink eight cocktails,” he says. As such, nearly every drink offered at his Avondale bar comes in three sizes, from 1, 2 or 3 ounces ($5 to $12). “It’s been really cool to see people taste through our menu when they might not want the commitment of a large stirred drink,” he says.

In addition to the newfound possibility of sampling through a drink list unscathed, small-format cocktails bring with them another level of variety: the ways in which they can be consumed. Case in point? At Gideon Sweet (841 W. Randolph St.), the Bitters small pour ($6) is a 2-ounce serving of amaro proofed down with palm sugar and water. “When our friends from the industry come in, we pour this—it’s a perfect stand-in for a Fernet shot,” says General Manager Tim Koenig. “We like to say, if you want to sip it, sip it; and if you want to rip it, rip it.”

Enjoying them with food is a natural choice, too. “People are starting to pair them up with dishes throughout the meal, which is a big advantage,” notes Tomaro.

The other big draw to small drinks? They afford the chance for guests to try a libation they may otherwise breeze by on the menu. “If you decide you don’t like it, you can quickly move on to something else,” McElroy says. “We specialize in stirred cocktails, but not everyone dabbles in such drinks. Now, given the chance, maybe they’ll change their minds.”