The Japanese Julep at The Drawing Room in Chicago

20080718-mintjulep.jpgAt one point, Chicago's Le Passage was sort of the windy city's modern version of Studio 54. It had a storied history of celebrity appearances, exclusivity, and general craziness. Fast forward to last November when the club changed hands and the VIP section transformed into The Drawing Room, a modern cocktail lounge.

Much has been written about the Drawing Room's food coming from Nick Lecasse, a chef who recently beat Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard in a head-to-head cooking battle with his excellent foie gras with pickled fennel and kumquat gastrique. It's all deserved praise. My recent visit yielded some favorites, including a jerk-spiced quail and fresh housemade gnocchi tossed with farmers' market vegetables and a pan jus. But the real object of my affection on that particular visit was their Japanese Julep.

Mixologist Charles Joly has basically picked up the highball from city cocktail hot spots Sepia, MK, Violet Hour, and Nacional 27 and run with it. His drink program features fresh juices, homemade syrups, and the whole fresh artisanal-ice-cube-and-spanked-herb show. Cocktails are made tableside while the bartenders shout out a bit of history about whatever they're making. The Japanese Julep, featuring mint muddled with ginger simple syrup, yuzu juice, and Yamazaki 12 year old single-malt whiskey, is the gem of the menu.

Unless I've laid down too many losing bets on the ponies and I need a quick sorrow-drowner, I can't say I have much use for the mint julep—I find the concoction to be medicinal and cloying. But in this version the light smokiness of the Japanese single-malt and the citrus tang of the yuzu balance out the sweetness and play well off the mint, so much so I don't think I'll ever drink a traditional julep again.

Interesting sidenote: Yamazaki single-malt whiskey is made by Suntory, as in the stuff Bill Murray's character plugs in the movie Lost In Translation. It's also a great value when compared against Macallan prices. I actually prefer it, as it doesn't have as much wet band-aid taste as many other scotches do. Ring a-ding-ding, it's Suntory Time!

Drawing Room/Le Passage

937 North Rush Street, Chicago, IL 60611 (b/n East Walton Place and East Oak Street; map) 312-266-2694‎
lepassage.com