Much of what people long for when reminiscing about the Prohibition era here in the States is the aesthetic and craftsmanship that defined it. The period was characterized by smoke-filled, back-alley speakeasies alive with jazz and swing, and iconic, Art Deco cityscapes were being newly forged—it’s an easy time to get nostalgic about. Many establishments have attempted to bring a bit of this romance back to Chicago in recent years, but few do it better than a small corner bar on the North Side called SIP.
Named for it’s location on the corner of Southport and Irving streets in the Wrigleyville neighborhood, SIP is a wonderfully period-accurate recreation of what drinkers in the ’20s and ’30s would have expected from a neighborhood establishment. It has great food, amazing service, and some of the city’s best cocktails, and there’s no password required to get in the door—a welcome surprise for fans of speakeasy-style joints.
While the design of the venue itself takes its inspiration from Prohibition-era ambiance—including reproduction light fixtures modeled after those in the Chrysler building, and an amazingly intricate bar salvaged from the city’s first African American Masonic Lodge—where the history really shines is on the cocktail menu.
It’s broken down into two sections: one for classic recipes like the Negroni and Aviation, as well as more esoteric recipes like the Three to One and Chicago Fizz, and a second for some truly inventive house cocktails. The flavor combinations rotate seasonally, save some perennial favorites like the Snitch—a Paloma variation that uses Campari and smoked sea salt—that will remain on the menu until customers stop asking for them, which doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen anytime soon.
Each of the house recipes is a creation of bar manager and head bartender Ardit Dizdari, who oversees nearly everything that goes on at SIP. Ardit is a self-taught barman who has spent years honing his craft in Chicago, and in addition to his cocktailing skills he’s quite an accomplished visual artist. This background suits him well, as he’s channeled his eye for design to craft some fantastically beautiful drinks.
His play on the G&T, for example, sets itself apart with a house-made lavender-juniper tonic and a bit of Mancino Bianco Ambrato vermouth. And as of November first, Ardit is introducing several new cocktails for fall, with flavors ranging from seasonally-inspired carrot shrubs and mushroom tinctures to house-made cola syrup and fennel bitters.
SIP’s Dining Room
Though we can get caught up with the cocktails, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that SIP specializes in gourmet food as well. Their restaurant takes the same seasonal approach as the bar, and features global cuisine prepared with fresh, local American produce. Brunch is always packed, and dinner is served with fantastic craftsmanship.
SIP is really a place that needs to be experienced as a whole. With the live jazz performances, gorgeous decor, and some truly incredible happy hour specials ($6 cocktails!), it’s easy to get swept into spending more time here than you initially planned. The bar and restaurant teams have put together menus that speak to the best of American drinking and cuisine, and you’d be hard pressed to find a spot that does either one better.
All photos: SIP