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100 best things we ate (and drank) in 2011 | Cocktails

In the Rocks at the AviaryDespite the fact that this old-fashioned is injected with a syringe into an orb of ice that’s placed inside a glass,...
 (Photograph: Christian Seel)
Photograph: Christian SeelIn The Rocks at the Aviary
 (Photograph: Martha Williams)
Photograph: Martha WilliamsBalsan (Bloody Margaret)
 (Photograph: Erica Gannett)
Photograph: Erica GannettOaxacan old-fashioned at the Whistler
 (Photograph: Martha Williams)
Photograph: Martha WilliamsThe Bedford Bloody Mary at the Bedford
 (Photograph: Jason Little)
Photograph: Jason LittleEl Pirata at 25 Degrees
Purchase Time Out Chicago's 2012 Eating & Drinking Guide.

In the Rocks at the Aviary
Despite the fact that this old-fashioned is injected with a syringe into an orb of ice that’s placed inside a glass, it’s one of the simpler cocktails at this high-concept lounge. It’s also our favorite, for how it seamlessly integrates tactile pleasure (“cracking” the rock) into a beautifully made drink.

Maatje herring shot at Vincent
Make way, tequila shots. We want to start every meal slurping a piece of sweet pickled herring followed by a shot of genever.

Bloody Margaret at Balsan
If we could eat dinner at Balsan weekly, we would. But we’re broke writers, so instead we settle for brunch. The $19 set menu is a steal for the quality, so we tack on this gin-based Bloody, fragrant with thyme, lightened with cucumber and brought down to our level with a good old beer back.

Michelada at Big Star
The exact DNA of the famed michelada at this perpetually packed urban honky-tonk is a mystery to anyone outside of the staff, but we’re certain of a few things: It contains Tecate, Cholula and Valentina hot sauces, and the Swiss-German seasoning Maggi. Oh, and we’re certain it is delicious, alleviates hangovers and might just cure cancer.

Oaxacan old-fashioned at the Whistler
This cocktail is not on the menu, but it’s a Paul McGee classic available by request. Here, the Whistler’s cocktail ace shows his genius by replacing the bourbon with reposado tequila and a super-smoky mescal, using agave nectar for the sugar cube and enhancing it with Mexican coffee bitters for warm cinnamon notes. Give it to a whiskey drinker (even a tequila hater) and we promise they won’t know what hit them.

The Bedford Bloody Mary at the Bedford
Fucking foodies. Somehow they made fermentation a “hip” ingredient. That’s why you see kimchi all over the place, and why there is—no joke—a line of fermented sodas. But after drinking this Bloody, we were forced to eat (drink?) our words: The kimchi actually belongs in this drink. It adds a pleasant background of earthiness to what otherwise would be just tomato juice and spice. Looks as if those foodies aren’t wrong all of the time.

El Pirata at 25 Degrees
The spiked shakes at this L.A. import (named for the difference between a medium-rare and well-done burger) are so thick, so boozy and so frickin’ delicious that even the burger-bored should get in here for these alone. The list doesn’t have a weak link, but El Pirata—made with coconut ice cream, Myers’s dark rum and fresh pineapple—wins for handing the old piña colada its ass on a silver platter.

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