This Chicago lounge is gambling on bringing the kitchen to cocktails
Macanese restaurant Fat Rice opens up intimate lounge The Ladies’ Room. By Jonathan White.
There’s a breeze of change blowing through the Windy City’s cocktail scene, now that the wait for The Ladies’ Room is finally over. Initially expected to open at the start of this year, the bar started accepting guests in July, after at least 18 months in the making. With room for just 20 guests, many will have to wait even longer for a taste of the Macau underbelly that Fat Rice’s chef-owners Abe Conlon and Adrienne Lo have cooked up. The world-renowned restaurant, which still requires a reservation despite opening four years ago, is not content with reclaiming fusion, a term once as tarnished in the food world as “disco drinks” was in cocktail circles. Now, they’re turning their hands to cocktails. Located past a door at the back of Fat Rice’s brand new adjoining Macanese bakery, most will pick up on the bordello-meets-basilica decor – red lights, 1920s Chinese pin-ups, genuine antiques sourced from Lo’s Chinese grandparents, an Asian Madonna and pew seating – but the real draw is the drinks.
Much in the same way that Fat Rice has wowed food heads with its approach to Macanese comfort food, the cocktail list is creative, thoughtful and heavy on ingredients made in house. Take the hot version of the Tea for Two (Freak of Nature oolong tea, plum brandy crafted by Fat Rice’s Transylvanian janitor and gin) or a USD280 punchbowl for 10 that pits grower champagne with house made versions of creme de cassis and Campari. There are also made-in-the-bar versions of Malort and chartreuse that feature throughout the list, while the bitters go further still, infusing flavours from stem lettuce, Sichuan peppercorns and black cumin cherry stem. And then, there’s the snap pea-infused vodka that Conlon is trying to nail down, or the Dr Manhattan, a barrel-aged take on Dr Pepper with Sichuan and scorpion peppers. As you’d expect, many of the drinks take their cues from the kitchen, whether it’s using ingredients such as jerk spices, wanting to stabilise seasonal flavours for use all year round, or sticking to the chef ethos of limiting waste. But most of all, The Ladies’ Room is just two James Beard-nominated chefs, who have never made drinks before, experimenting behind the bar and nailing it. It seems that Imbibe were on to something when they named Conlon in this year’s Imbibe 75.
Recipe (Click to view)
Cold Tea for Two
The Ladies’ Room / 2597 W Diversey Avenue, Chicago, USA / +1 773 6619170 / eatfatrice.com
This article first appeared in issue 45 of DRiNK Magazine.