Few things evoke the carefree days of childhood quite like the root beer float. With one straw or two, Mug or A&W, chocolate or vanilla ice cream, there's just something about this classic confection that makes everything in the world seem okay. Scrape your knee? Have a float. Broken heart? Have a float. Sweet, aromatic soda and creamy ice cream come together in the most iconic beverage-turned-dessert of all time, and it's always been there when you needed it.
Some Chicagoland restaurants have decided to add alcohol to this childhood favorite—an idea that we think is genius, and long overdue. We like to think these places are paying homage to the beverage's history—root beer was originally an alcoholic, herbal medicine that helped many a drunkard get through Prohibition—but we're pretty sure they added booze because people like to get drunk. If you're not into a stiff float, there are plenty of options for a good, old-fashioned version, too. Either way, make sure you have a float today.
For those who do:
Want to get in touch with the simpler days of childhood, but don't want to skimp on the booze? The innovate drink menu at Karma has just introduced a concoction for you. Straddling the line between nostalgic treat and classic cocktail, the Rootbeer Fizz ($6) is made with gin, lemon juice, sugar and root beer (you get to pick the brand), served on ice and topped with a maraschino cherry spear. Sure, it's not exactly a root beer float, but it's fizzy in all the right places and it gets you buzzed.
So what's an American classic doing at this charming French bistro? It was inspired by the restaurant's sidewalk cafe—which was just screaming to be filled with float-sharing customers on a sunny day. Affectionately dubbed chat de calicot d'ivrogne (drunken calico cat) by Matou's manager, this grown-up take on the kiddie classic is made with Thomas Kemper cane sugar root beer—which is just sweet enough—and Matou's own house-made ice cream. A shot of Myers dark rum finishes off the foamy concoction. ($8)
Cityscape's Root Beer Float martini is a sweet blend of childhood and adulthood.
When newspaper-folk can't decide between satiating their sweet tooth and silencing their liver, they head to this spot on the 15th floor of the Holiday Inn Chicago Mart Plaza
. Cityscape offers panoramic views of Chicago architecture, an array of upscale appetizers and—most importantly—a creamy, alcoholic root beer float martini ($9). With root beer schnapps, Godiva chocolate liqueur and Absolut vodka, this sweet treat is served in a martini glass and garnished with a root beer-flavored candy.
For those who don't:
Sweet Baby Ray's Barbecue (Elk Grove Village)
If ever there was a perfect pairing for the root beer float, our money's on a heaping pile of sauce-ridden barbecue. This Elk Grove Village mainstay understands the summertime marriage of sweet-meets-spicy all too well, and doles out one serious root beer float ($4.99) to accompany the platters of ribs racing out of the kitchen. Weinhard's gourmet root beer (which has real sassafras extract instead of artificial flavoring) and Homer's old-world vanilla ice cream (which is local and homemade) mingle simply and seamlessly in a 16-ounce frosted beer mug.
Birch River Grill
Appropriately situated on the dessert menu of this Arlington Heights locale, the Goose Island Root Beer Float ($6) is made with Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream and a generous pour of Goose Island Root Beer. Just in case that doesn't excite you enough, the whole shebang is served tableside—so you can watch as two scoops of ice cream are heaved into a ball-mason mug and Goose Island's creamy hand-crafted root beer is poured over top. What's more, waiters leave the bottle so you can alter the foamy concoction to perfection.
Sure, it's a little odd that this Lincoln Square bookstore doles out floats on the side, but why argue with a good thing? At only three bucks, the Book Cellar's version of the iconic treat is perhaps the most authentic of the bunch—an authenticity owed to the store's choice of using Boylan's Root Beer. Boylan was founded in 1891, and today's root beer recipe is as close as possible to the original; what a difference real cane sugar makes. Proper carbonation makes for an impressive blast from the past, and two scoops of vanilla bean gelato add that essential creamy goodness.