Drink of the week:
Limoncello Martini at A Mano, 335 N. Dearborn.
The damage: $10.
Thousands of bars in Chicago, why this one? While I was in college at the University of Iowa, I'd kick-off my weekends at FAC, or Friday After Class. It wasn't until after I left Iowa City that I realized not everyone spends the hours of 5 to 7 p.m. on Fridays sharing half-price pitchers of Bud Light and eating greasy $1 cheeseburgers. I thought I was prepared to face all the lessons the "real world" could throw my way post-graduation, but harsh reality set in when I discovered that finding a good Friday-night food or drink deal in Chicago is as hard as landing a well-paying job with a liberal arts degree.
A Mano offers its $5 bar menu every night of the week, along with $5 pizzas from 5 to 7 p.m., but taking advantage of the special on a Friday evening made it seem so much sweeter.
How it went down: My friends and I grabbed a table in the restaurant's elevated lounge area, which looks like a romantic outdoor patio, complete with a wrought-iron chaise lounge. Glass-topped tables reveal a stack of travel guides and journals tucked beneath; candles emit a warm smell reminiscent of a fireplace; dried flowers hang upside down against a brick wall, and green Christmas lights glow over bright red and orange pillows. The overall affect leaves you decidedly relaxed—even before you've cracked open the wine list.
We ordered a bottle of Aglianico for the table to share, but knowing we'd come out ahead on the food, we decided to treat ourselves to a pre-meal cocktail, too. I opted for the Limoncello Martini, a simple 50-50 blend of Capra Natura Limoncello and Stoli Citrus vodka, served with a twist. I expected it to have a bright yellow hue, but it was colorless, though a tad cloudy. The perky drink tasted more sweet than sour, but had a nice bite of citrus—like a tamed-down Lemonhead. It felt warm as it ran down my throat, mimicking the effect Limoncello has when you sip it solo as a digestivo.
Would I want to become a regular? My martini was pleasant and all, but the real draw of A Mano—and the reason I'll go back time and time again—is the food, especially the ridiculously good pizza deal. Whole hazelnuts peppered the earthy wild mushroom pizza, with sweet caramelized onions, white truffle oil and Taleggio cheese. Chunks of fennel sausage topped another pie with thinly sliced potatoes and peppery arugula. And these babies weren't sized-down for the special either; we ordered two for three of us and couldn't finish. We barely dipped into the $5 bar eats, only getting the polenta fries, which weren't mushy and flavorless like so many others I've had. They had a creamy cheese flavor and came with a sweet sundried tomato aioli, which I ended up dipping the chewy pizza crust in.
To be sure, our final bill rang in higher than my old FAC tabs, but not by much. Maybe my liberal arts degree paid off after all, because at least now I know a good deal when I see one.
Dana Kavan scours the city for drink deals so good you'll offer to buy a round and creative libations that outshine your average on-the-rocks concoctions. Want to give Dana tips on where to rack up a bar tab? Share your finds before her next night out.