Chicago has no shortage of fantastic Italian restaurants, but the bar scene has some catching up to do. Sure, most watering holes have a spritz or negroni on the menu, but I’m talking about a different level of commitment—one that immerses its clientele. Enter Otto Mezzo. The Italian-inspired concept from Rockit Ranch Productions is helmed by Brandon Phillips (The Drawing Room, Bottlefork) and opened earlier this year in the former Ay Chiwowa space in River North.
Otto Mezzo unlocks its doors at 5pm Friday and Saturday, so it’s not your bright, airy Euro café-style hangout. The room, which is outfitted with art deco accents galore, is dark and moody; it’s the kind of place where you can exchange glances and have soft-spoken conversations. More importantly, though, it holds rare Italian liqueurs, 90 different bitters, an enormous collection of grappa and drafts from Italian craft brewers you can’t find anywhere else in Chicago.
The cocktail menu offers a phenomenal negroni, but I’d urge you to delve deeper and put some trust in your server. After all, you could spend the entire night Googling cochineal (a dye that comes from pulverized bugs), Vecchia Romagna Etichetta Nera (brandy from Emilia-Romagna, Italy), Bepi Tosolini Fragola (strawberry liqueur) and other words that appear on the menu. The Biscotti Sour is a good place to start. Crafted with biscotti-flavored liqueur, grappa and egg white, this creamy, sweet concoction is as satisfying as cookies straight from your g