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Retooled classic cocktails and a stylish, relaxed atmosphere make this late-night newcomer a welcome addition to Albany Park.
“Did it just get darker in here?” asked my date as we squinted at our menus in contemplation of our second round of drinks at Bokeh, a moody new cocktail den in Albany Park. It was entirely possible, as we seemed a few blown-out votives away from total darkness. Aside from the pesky matter of deciphering the menu (“Does that actually say cabbage simple syrup?”), we appreciated the flickering, low light of this sexy bar that fills a void for laid-back late-night watering holes near Kedzie and Lawrence.
Named for a Japanese term that describes the quality of the blurry parts of a photograph, Bokeh is the debut solo venture of former professional photographer and hospitality vet Rick Weber. An understated photography theme permeates the bar’s design and 10 signature cocktails, with kitschy names like Lens Flare, Crop Factor and Aperture.
Weber’s professional background may also explain why each cocktail (dreamed up with help from lead bartender Noah Kort) drinks like seeing something familiar from a brand-new angle. The namesake Bokeh elevates Fernet-Branca to a starring role in a minty, frothy suppressor sour with lemon and lime juices. Perhaps my favorite sipper, the Focal Length, pairs vegetal mezcal with tart and jammy cherry liqueur, a wine-based aperitif and grapefruit juice; a splash of cava lightens the load, lending the drink a lovely fuzzy texture.
Two regulars posted up at the bar lamented the imminent phaseout of the Depth of Field, a surprisingly good cabbagey gimlet frothed with cynar-laced egg white foam. Cabbage-infused simple syrup hit hard on the nose; its turnipy sweetness flitted across my tongue before vanishing amid more potent cynar, biting lime and peppery gin.
I wasn’t quite as charmed by Bokeh’s food, which was often over-salted. Though the hot chicken’s searing spice blend was rich and smoky, the salty batter was applied too thick, and the meat inside dry—compounded further by a parched grilled polenta base. A generous salad with radishes and sunflower seeds was almost perfect, save for a brackish champagne vinaigrette. The insipid, andouille-flecked wine broth cradling nicely cooked mussels begged for a hit of tang or heat.
We were happiest while noshing on the snacks of yesteryear, like springy deviled eggs tinged pink from beet juice and smoky bacon-wrapped shrimp, both of which were happy to play backup singers to the punchy cocktails.
As we left the dim glow of Bokeh’s cocoon, I quickly swiped through the photos I’d snapped on my phone. Fittingly, every last one was terribly out of focus.
Atmosphere: A cozy date spot steps from the Kedzie Brown Line stop, late-night cocktail den Bokeh leans into its snug size with heavy curtains, dim lighting and sexy mid-century modern decor.
What to eat: Stick to snacky shareables, like fried chickpeas, deviled eggs, olives, and generous meat and cheese boards. Pro tip: The glass case at the end of the bar carries a rotating selection of homemade cookies.
What to drink: Signature cocktails and retooled classics tend toward minty, herbaceous and bitter, like the Last Word-riffing Last Looks with burnt rosemary, bourbon and green chartreuse.
Where to sit: This cozy spot houses just four perimeter tables and eight bar seats. A few couches and chairs are clustered near the entrance and in back for small groups.
Maggie Hennessy is the restaurant and bar critic for Time Out Chicago and co-host of the Overserved podcast. She likes (real) dive bars and bread with every meal. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @edible_words.
4716 N Kedzie Ave
|Opening hours:||Mon–Thu 5pm–1am; Fri, Sat 5pm–2am|
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