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“Tomatoes are sort of like the saddest thing you can find in Chicago in the winter,” admits Matty Eggleston. Nevertheless, when Bangers & Lace owner Matt Eisler asked him to come up with a Bloody Mary list in tune with the bar’s North Woods lodge feel, Eggleston began riffing on the classic. But what kind of bartender reaches for veal demi-glace?
Though Eggleston grew up in west suburban Lisle, his professional bartending career began in earnest at the Hungry Cat in Los Angeles, where the bartenders were doing “farm to table” cocktails “before it was a passé term,” Eggleston recalls. From the Cat, he joined the Varnish, a bar that revived classic cocktails in L.A. much like the Violet Hour did here. “It was sort of that classic East Coast–style bartending,” Eggleston says of his two years at the Varnish: “Very precise. It was pretty eye-opening and demanding.” After two months in San Francisco, Eggleston returned to Chicago and picked up the Monday night shift at Bar DeVille, where he’d worked with many of the bartenders at La Sorella di Francesca in Naperville. There, he brought his precision to Brad Bolt’s log of drink recipes, and took advantage of his early-in-the-week shift to sometimes play around with his own. (On Valentine’s Day, he made a Bee’s Knees with beet juice, and served melted chocolate with reposado tequila.) Meanwhile, after a short stint at the Exchange, he went behind the bar for about a year at graham elliot, where he collaborated with the general manager to incorporate cocktail pairings into the restaurant’s increasingly extensive tasting menus.
“It’s sort of a restless résumé at this point,” concedes Eggleston, who left graham elliot to come up with the trim opening cocktail list for the beer bar Bangers & Lace with fellow DeVille guy Eric Hay. Which brings this all back to the Meat & Potato, an intense take on the Bloody Mary incorporating Luksusowa potato vodka, a beef jerky garnish and the veal demi-glace, which Eggleston says “adds a nice depth and richness and—in a good way—a viscosity to the drink.” (Still, he admits it’s “sort of a polarizing cocktail ingredient.”) The other brunch cocktails—the Hawaiian (Death’s Door vodka, pineapple juice and more), the Machette (a Michelada with mezcal)—are less divisive, but for Eggleston, all come back to the same goal, to go “beyond just a giant Bloody Mary with some sort of gargantuan garnish laying over the top of it. It’s still a drink where there has to be a balance.”
Try Eggleston’s Bloody Marys ($8 each) at weekend brunch at [node:211713 link=Bangers and Lace;] (1670 W Division St, 773-252-6499).