Where to Drink (and Actually Enjoy) Malört in Chicago
Between deep-dish pizza, hot dogs and Italian beef, Chicago has no shortage of foods for which it's best known. But when it comes to drinking, there's no sipper as iconic—or as polarizing—as Malört. Though the wormwood-based Swedish schnapps has always been a rather infamous last-call order (especially as a welcome ritual for naive out-of-towners), bartenders have been taking the bitter spirit a little more seriously as of late, incorporating it into an array of recently debuted drams.
① The Devil in the White City at Saint Lou's Assembly
Chicago shows up three ways in the White Negroni riff at this Midwestern-style meat-and-three restaurant—from its name and locally distilled gin to, of course, the Malört. Lead bartender Lily Wang melds together an ounce and a half of CH gin, an ounce of Lillet Blanc and a half ounce of Malört in a mixing glass before stirring and serving in an orange-garnished rocks glass.
② The Carlos at Lowcountry
Escape the chaos of Wrigleyville with a visit to this seafood-centric restaurant, where guests chow down on Southern-inspired boils by way of head-on shrimp, clams, Dungeness crab and crawfish. Couple it all with the Carlos, a tequila- and Malört-based tipple from beverage director Raymond Chester that also features St-Germain, limoncello, Bittermens Hellfire bitters and Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin for refreshing relief.
③ The High Five at Rogers Park Social
Forget the bartender's handshake—it's all about the high five at this neighborhood drinking destination and go-to industry hangout. Credit that patronage, in part to this shot. It's a coming together of Jeppson's Malört, Underberg, Fernet Francisco and Chartreuse that is at once herbaceous, mint-forward and—you guessed it—bitter. Fear not: It's a finish that can be easily tamed with a pony of Miller High Life, the deal sealer that completes the order.
④ The Malted Grapefruit Cobbler at Dusek's Board & Beer
Head to this Pilsen-situated gathering place for beer-driven cuisine—each dish is specifically crafted to pair with one of the restaurant's 24 rotating draft brews. Pre- or post-dinner, though, opt for a cocktail like this one from hospitality director Will Duncan, who combines Punt e Mes sweet vermouth, Malört, barley malt syrup and grapefruit juice for a zippy take on the classic cobbler.
Photo: Dusek's Board & Beer
⑤ The Chicago Way at Roots Handmade Pizza
Locals flock to both locations of this pizza joint for Quad Cities-style and local chef-inspired pies with a dynamite crust (they use dark-roasted malt to ensure tender and chewy dough). The name says it all when it comes to this cocktail pairing, a bright and balanced blend of Malört, lemon juice, grapefruit bitters and Peychaud's.
⑥ The White Negroni at The Ladies' Room
Complete with vintage 1920s Chinese pinup posters and a six-and-a-half-foot mural of an Asian Madonna, this Logan Square lounge—the latest from the Fat Rice team—recreates a drinking experience reminiscent of 19th-century Macau gambling halls. A wide array of house-made spirits and bitters from chef Abe Conlon and bar manager Annie Beebe-Tron are the main draw, right down to the White Negroni, a stirred and strained concoction of Citadelle Gin, Atxa white vermouth, house Malört and wild pine lemon liqueur.
Nicole Schnitzler is a Chicago-based freelance writer who covers travel, food and drink. She is most comfortable with a pen in one hand and a fork in the other. Follow her on Twitter at @write_to_eat.
Please check your inbox to verify your email address.