Ever since the tiki resurgence took shape a couple years ago, spawning cocktail juggernauts like Three Dots and a Dash and Lost Lake, rum has been enjoying quite the renaissance of its own. Whereas whiskey bars once reigned supreme as the hip cocktail anchor of choice for Chicago's buzziest new drinking dens, now rum has usurped a bit of that glory. Case in point, two of the hottest and most eagerly awaited new cocktail bars in Chicago reserve a good portion of their beverage programs for rum. Both open within a week of one another, Queen Mary Tavern and Sparrow serve to display rum's versatility beyond the tiki spectrum. Take a sip:
The first new rum spot to make a splash was Queen Mary Tavern, the latest entry from the tireless bar team that is Heisler Hospitality (Revel Room, Sportsman's Club, Pub Royale, Lone Wolf, others). Located a mere block away from sister spot Pub Royale, the Indian-leaning bar that rapidly became one of Chicago's hottest drinking and dining destinations this summer, Queen Mary Tavern borrows inspiration from the British Royal Navy for its arsenal of boozy potables. Naturally, rum plays a pivotal role. The space itself is a historic bastion along the stretch of Division Street between Wicker Park and Ukrainian Village. Queen Mary is named for local resident Mary Kafka, who once owned and operated a bar in the same space with her husband, who was shot during an armed robbery. Upon his death, Mary closed up shop and kept the doors shut for decades. Until she forged a friendship with new proprietors Kevin Heisner and Matt Eisler, who named the bar in her honor. The new nautically inspired bar harkens to maritime drinking traditions through its decor and its drink list heavily hinged on Scotch, gin, and of course, rum. Tea punches and rum-based grog are regular players on the cocktail menu, along with eight seasonally inspired rotating cocktails, a Navy Strength Old Fashioned, and a martini.
In a completely different part of town, in a space that borrows inspiration from another time and place entirely, rum is bulking up the beverage list at Sparrow. The bar is the latest from Footman Hospitality, another burgeoning bar empire behind spots like The Betty and Bangers & Lace. For Sparrow, the inspiration hails from Prohibition-era Americana, a time when rum was often smuggled into the U.S. from the Caribbean. Appropriately, the bar is housed in an Art Deco apartment building built in 1927, and the bar sports a striking resemblance to olden, grandiose hotels of yore. With fern plants, a working phone booth, and room keys decorating the walls, Sparrow actually feels quite a bit like the hotel from Tower of Terror. Good thing this bar is on the ground floor. Courtesy of beverage director, the cocktails menu includes the Floridita #3, made with Cana Brava Rum, lime juice, grapefruit juice, Maraschino, and sugar; the Hotel Nacional with Plantation Pineapple Rum, pineapple cordial, lime juice, and Marie Brizard Apry Apricot Liqueur; and El Presidente, featuring Gold Rum, Bianco Vermouth, Curacao, and grenadine.