photo: courtesy of Motel Bar; Million Dollar Manhattan
If you find yourself in the Bar Hemingway at the Paris Ritz with $515 to spare, you can imbibe in the world's most expensive cocktail, the Hemingway Sidecar. While some establishments class-up spirits by trimming their barware in jewels, this drink's price tag dangles firmly from its ingredients; the hotel makes the sidecar with its reserve of cognac from 1830—from vines that existed before the phylloxera plague forever altered European vineyards.
We might not have the Ritz's reserve on hand, but Chicagoans do have plenty of options when it comes to luxury libations. Whether you're looking to drink high on a low dime or lose the farm to a rare tequila, the city's cocktail culture has tailored the high life to every taste.
Ultimate Margarita at Nine
Many people who fancy themselves margarita connoisseurs judge the drink by its bite: The usual rule being, if you can taste the tequila, the bartender has failed you. But true tequila lovers won't bother with such fruity concoctions; they take their poison straight up and savor the burn. This is probably why the Ultimate Margarita has been so successful. The pricey tipple puts all the focus on the booze, and this class of liquor is smooth enough for the most delicate of palates.
Forget top shelf; you'll strain your neck trying to find where these rare tequilas hail from. The bartender mixes Herradura Seleccion Suprema with Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal and Grand Marnier 150 Year, and then adds simple syrup, along with lime and pomegranate juices. The resulting mixture is poured into a stem-less Bordeaux glass and garnished with a sugar cane stick in the shape of the number nine. During the summer, the restaurant sells about three of the $69 Ultimate Margaritas a week, a number that skyrockets during winter cocktail season.
Million Dollar Manhattan at Motel Bar
Posturing with a Manhattan is a great way to make a statement. The classic cocktail says, "Look at me. I'm drinking like Sinatra. Aren't I fancy?" Motel Bar has figured out a way to get that million-dollar feeling for only 20 bucks, and it involves Bookers Bourbon, a small-batch aberration bottled straight from the barrel; it's unfiltered, remarkably smooth and packs an intense vanilla aroma at a whopping 125 proof.
To the bourbon, the bartender adds Vya Sweet Vermouth, an aperitif tasty enough to stand alone. After getting sprinkled with the zesty botanical throwback du jour, Regan's Orange Bitters, the drink gets a garnish of brandy-soaked cherries to finish it off. These old-timey ingredients can be shaken, but for the full effect, have 'em served up in a martini glass.
Cloud Gate Martini at Tavern at the Park
Ever been hanging out in Millennium Park, pondering the gentle bends of "The Bean," and been suddenly struck with an urgent thirst? Perhaps that's how the neighboring Tavern at the Park got its inspiration for the Cloud Gate Martini.
In this delightful take on a classic martini, the bartender finishes off Grey Goose La Poire with high-end champagne and garnishes it with a rim of edible silver. For the final touch, the martini comes topped with a sterling-silver bean-shaped pendant by prominent Tiffany jeweler, Elsa Peretti. People willing to part with 200 big ones get to enjoy this luxuriously smooth gem while gazing at Anish Kapoor's opus from the comfort of Tavern's high-class dining room.
Stoli Doli at Capital Grille (Streeterville)
This fine-dining chain made a lot of headlines earlier this year when it was selling the ultimate luxury libation—a $1,000 cocktail dubbed The Lakeshore Martini. The beverage, made from berries muddled into Ciroc Vodka and Crème de Mure (a wild-blackberry liqueur), came garnished with a diamond and blue topaz rope bracelet. The promotion was an instant hit, and the drink raised nearly $20,000 for the childhood hunger charity, Share Our Strength.
It's not necessary to take out a second mortgage to drink in style at Capital Grille, though; you just need to be able to string the words "Stoli Doli" together with a straight face. For this drink, the restaurant flies pineapple in from Hawaii, places slices of the fruit into a large glass vat and drowns them in Stoli vodka. The brew mingles for seven days, until the vodka is decanted and served in a martini glass. The result is light and flavorful, without a trace of harshness. This top-notch nip might not come dripping with gemstones, but it'll only cost you $12.
Still got money to spare?
Au Chocolat at La Pomme Rouge
Those who want to drink like a high-roller but are partial to the sweet stuff should try this candy-like concoction, a blend of Van Gogh Dutch Chocolate vodka, Godiva White Chocolate Liqueur and Frangelica, for $12.
Twenty-first Street Martini at Cuatro
If you like your bubbly with an exotic touch, check out this $21 refined take on a fruity cocktail. Guava and sugar cane juices accent a split of A Laurent-Perrier Brut Nv.