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Nico Osteria explores iconic hotel bars in new cocktail series

Matty Eggleston at Nico Osteria.
Photograph: Martha Williams Matty Eggleston at Nico Osteria.

Chicago has some excellent hotel bars, including the Thompson Hotel’s Nico Osteria, where head bartender Matty Eggleston will be paying homage to iconic hotel bars with a new cocktail series, starting Thursday.

“We’re in a hotel, and there are lots of great hotels that have created drinks that we still hold onto in some form or another,” Eggleston says. Hotel bars have been credited with creating the Bloody Mary, Sazerac, Singapore Sling and other classic drinks.

The event, No Key Required, will be held in the second-floor space, which is currently only open on weekends and for private events. Each Thursday starting at 8pm, No Key Required takes over, and themes will run for approximately six weeks. First up: Paris, 1920-1930s.

“There was a still flow of American bartenders moving to London and Paris to join the ranks of bar teams there,” he says, since Prohibition effectively ended their bartending careers in the States. “There’s a holdover of decadence and opulence, and there was an air of conviviality.” 

That translates to parlor games, which will be placed around the 35-40 seat space, and lots of cocktails. The menu includes classic drinks like the Pompadour, which debuted at the Ritz Bar in 1930. The cocktail, from legendary bartender Frank Meier, is made with equal parts Jamaican rum and Pineau de Charentes, a French aperitif, and a little lemon. Eggleston will also be serving his take on French cocktails of the era, like Spa Water, with absinthe, mint, aloe vera and cucumber. To research recipes, Eggleston turned to Meier’s book, The Artistry of Mixing Drinks, as well as other books and documents, some of which he translated with his college French and Google Translate. Drinks will range from $13-$20 and, in addition to cocktails, Eggleston says there will also be a wine, a beer, a nonalcoholic cocktail and a punch in shot form.

As for what’s next, “we’ll be traveling through different eras or areas that spawned great drinks," Eggleston says. "The next one will probably be tropical, since we’ll be in the throes of winter, be it Mexico or Hawaii or the Philippines. Then New York will probably make its way in.”

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