Drink of the week:
A Cherry Park Martini at Martini Park
, 151 W. Erie.
The damage: $10
Thousands of bars in Chicago, why this one? My playground days began with acting horrified as icky boys chased me and my friends around the jungle gym, but by the time I could write in cursive, I considered myself way too cool for swings. Ever since, save for some post-bar monkey-bar action in college, I left the parks to the kiddies. But now that Martini Park, which bills itself as a playground for grown-ups, has opened, it's time we adults descend on a spot that trades slides for sliders (made with Kobe beef, pulled pork or filet mignon, of course) and recess for happy hour.
How it went down: I expected the martini menu to overwhelmingly list every fruit-liquor combo imaginable, but a manageable 21 choices stood before me instead. While fruit concoctions ruled the offerings, plenty of unexpected options caught my eye, like the Modern Ward, a blend of bourbon, pomegranate molasses and ginger ale. For bargoers devoid of that youthful exuberance, the Energizer, with Bacardi and Rockstar energy drink, would surely put them back in play mode.
For my first round, I settled on the Cherry Park Martini and watched the bartender pour a thick, burgundy liquid into a chilled glass. A mix of Snow Queen Vodka and cherry puree with a champagne float, sugar rim and maraschino on top, the bubbly blend tasted like a red popsicle with the sweet tang of the Luden's wild cherry cough drops I savored as a kid. Satisfied with my first fruit-based pick, I scanned the menu and landed on a pear-flavored concoction for round two.
Would I want to become a regular? When I was in elementary school, rocks lined the floor of playgrounds, not the bouncy rubber material that protects kids today. Like those squishy floors, Martini Park's ambiance has a comforting effect, its glowing amber bars and stone walls casting a relaxing, almost lodge-like feel. With a River North location and cocktail focus, it could easily skew toward pretension and exclusivity, but it doesn't, particularly because the Park doesn't take itself too seriously. Don't get me wrong, this is a well-run operation, but a friendly staff, lively music and food like crab cake corn dogs keep the mood lighthearted—and perfect for play.
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.