Whatever you do, don't call them mixologists.
Bartenders generally don't like it, and the guys manning the bar at FitzGerald's Side Bar on Wednesday nights are most certainly bartenders—in the classic sense.
On a recent Wednesday evening, I headed over to FitzGerald's Side Bar to get a sense of the newly designated Classic Cocktail Night, and take in the evening while imbibing on some cocktails from days gone by. Once seated, I met Isaac Lyons and Marcus Reidy, the bartenders leading a quiet cocktail revolution in Berwyn.
"It's a passion for me," Reidy said over the noise of a piano playing next door and ice crashing around inside a silver tumbler. "We wanted to do it correct—not just putting [cocktails] together—but doing it in the right way."
The classic-focused menu features several still commonplace drinks and several that are more obscure, pulled from the pages of old bartending books. Drinks offered on the classic menu include the Manhattan, Sidecar and gin Martini, but also the Last Word, Aviation and French 75—which was added to the menu at the request of a Facebook poster. The French 75, made with gin, Prosecco and lemon juice, isn't your typical cocktail, Reidy said, but it's a wonderfully accessible drink.
A Passion for Classics
Reidy explained that his obsession with classics began about three years ago when he bought himself a copy of the Savoy Cocktail Book by Harry Cradock—a bible of sorts for the classic art of cocktail mixing. A home bar that has gotten out of control and plenty of testing later, Reidy broached the subject with Lyons about starting something on Wednesday nights to draw in a crowd and give patrons a bit of performance and history as well.
"There's nothing else in the area that does it like this," Reidy said. "We wanted to show people you don't need to go into Chicago to get drinks like this."
After a study of the menu, I decided to go with a cocktail that is one of my favorites. On a recent trip to New Orleans, I'd sat at the famous Napoleon House in the French Quarter for the better part of the day enjoying Sazeracs. I wanted to see how FitzGerald's would measure up.
Sure enough, my drink was sweet, with a healthy dose of rye whiskey for flavor, livened up with a shake of Peychaud's bitters and lemon peel, served in a glass washed with Pernod (a reasonable alternative to absynthe). Perfect. It was like being back in the French Quarter again.
Drinks, sure. But History Too.
If you hang around long enough and ask the right questions, you're sure to get a history lesson as well, which is nearly as refreshing as the cocktails. Reidy draws from love of the ingrediants that make up these drinks and is also able to explain the monk-made origins and the contemporary reissues of the fine liqueurs that make the drinks sing.
But no one is a snob at FitzGerald's—it's not that kind of bar. Both bartenders are willing and ready to pour you a beer or mix up a Jack and Coke, should you prefer one of those. Still, it's a wonderful opportunity to expand your horizons and find a classic that will become your new favorite.
At $8 for any of the cocktails offered on the menu, it's also an inexpensive way to give something a whirl.
Whether you're a cocktail aficionado, a newbie looking for adventure or just want to change up a otherwise boring Wednesday evening, I highly recommend you swing by. On future nights, Lyons and Reidy said, they'd like to bring in some musical accompaniment to complete the ambiance—possibly a DJ who will spin old 45s for the crowd. Down the line you might catch the screening of a classic movie as well.
"We've still have a few things we're working on," Lyons said. "The night will continue to develop as we see what works and what people are enjoying."
For my final cocktail of the night, I decided to jump in feet first and try something that was new to me as well. I chose the Last Word, made with gin, Green Chartreuse, limejuice and maraschino liqueur. Made with Martin Miller gin, the cocktail has a sweet melon-like flavor that is nicely complimented by the herbal flavor of the Chartreuse for a light green drink that really hit the spot.
I guess you can't go wrong with a classic.
You can grab a classic too. Swing by Classic Cocktail Night each Wednesday at FitzGerald's Side Bar from 6 p.m. to close. Tell us what your favorite cocktail is in comments below.