Drink of the week:
Wild Berry Shandy at Fifty/50, 2047 W. Division.
The damage: $8.
Thousands of bars in Chicago, why this one? The term "gastropub" has become quite the foodie buzzword over the past couple years, right up there with "molecular gastronomy," "locavore" and "fried Twinkies." While I've got nothing against the trend, which pairs quality brews with high-end fare, I still equate beer-drinking with pub grub. But that doesn't mean I want to settle for mystery-meat chicken tenders and mini burgers that belong in a Kid's Cuisine frozen dinner. I'm always looking for bars that don't insult my taste buds with a menu fit for a five-year-old, but that also don't expect me to throw down $30 for lamb shanks. Enter the Fifty/50, a new Wicker Park spot that falls somewhere between a sports bar, a lounge and a casual eatery.
How it went down: I walked into the airy space on a particularly toasty spring weeknight, and headed straight for the first-floor bar to seek out a refreshing tipple. I landed on the Wild Berry Shandy, but was reluctant to order it at first. I owe many hangover-free mornings to my strict policy of not mixing beer with liquor, but Fifty/50 mixologist Dan Barringer has taken this potentially dangerous combo and run away with it, crafting a handful of beer-based cocktails. He mixes everything from tequila and lager to pale ale and scotch; the Shandy seemed to be the tamest of the lot, so I stopped listening to the voice in my head repeating "beer before liquor, always sicker," and went for it.
A blend of Bacardi Razz Rum, wheat beer and black cherry and raspberry Lambic beers, the Shandy comes served on ice in a 12-ounce glass, with the rum making up about 65 percent of it. Lemon and ginger are added for a bit of tang; blackberries, strawberries and grapes float around the watermelon-pink liquid that tastes tart but not overly sweet, with a strong berry flavor reminiscent of Crush strawberry soda.
If it weren't for the drink's subtle effervescence, I would have completely forgotten that beer was part of the equation. And, I'm happy to report, the suds didn't induce any morning-after headaches either.
Would I want to become a regular? After round one, I settled into a large, semi-circle gray booth to order off the menu, which promised above-average bar eats made with fresh ingredients. Out of curiosity, I ordered a couple "triple secret" sliders (also available full-size). I later learned that the secret lies in the blend of beef used, and unlike most overcooked, paper-thin patties, the ones here had a perfect pink center and remained delightfully moist and flavorful. The skirt-steak sandwich was insanely tender, with a layer of caramelized onions imparting a touch of sweetness. The food matched the casual-chic environs, with a top-floor catwalk that overlooks the main bar area, long hanging lights and brick-red walls.
I tried to go back on a recent Saturday night, and the tri-level space was so crowded, I could barely make it through the door. I wonder if the city's gastropubs were packing them in like that?
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.