The scene at the Elixir Lounge at 9pm on a recent Monday was perfectly staged. Björk’s “Come to Me” was set to a low murmur, punctuated only by the constant hum of cocktails being shaken. Men were chatting idly, perched both at the bar and at nearby tables, their heads a cluster of salt and pepper resting atop collared shirts. But when a group of five plopped down and started ordering well drinks, I immediately wanted to yell “Cut,” and tell props to replace their mundane vodka sodas with the cucumber mint smash, a blend of Russian Standard vodka, Mathilde Poire, St-Germain, lime juice and cucumber. If you’re going to spend double digits on a drink, do it right.
Elixir, a high-end cocktail lounge from the gents behind Hydrate and Halsted’s that opened for business on July 3, offers a new respite from the monotonous hustle and muscle of Boystown and is mostly off to a swell start with a libation list that surprises and titillates (thanks to a menu created by mixologist Johnny Costello of Tiny Lounge and GT Fish and Oyster) coupled with a hushed, low-key ambience. It’s exactly what owner Mark Liberson and director of operations Sean Kotwa imagined. “When Mark and I initially took over this space, it was going to be a VIP lounge for Hydrate,” Kotwa says. “But we looked around and realized every time we wanted to have a conversation, we had to leave this neighborhood. A lot of my friends felt the same way.”
Liberson and Kotwa are attempting to right this wrong in several ways. First, the music is barely audible above the chatter, and the volume rises only as the night wears on and the youngsters replace the silver foxes. More important, at Lilliputian Elixir, a dozen people makes the place feel lively. The joint seats only 45, and a host ensures that just eight additional customers are granted standing-room status. This has already irked some, but Liberson and Kotwa are standing firm. “One of my biggest pet peeves is walking into a place and getting pushed and shoved around, and before I can even have a sip of a cocktail, I’ve already spilled half of it,” Kotwa says. “You’re not just paying for your drink, you’re paying for the real estate of comfort.” To ease the strain, a host will text or call names on the wait list and hold tables for up to 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, the seasonal menu begs for experimentation and is full of surprises like the strawberry basil lemonade, a fragrant combination of vodka, lemon juice, smashed berries and bitters that will no longer be available once berry season wanes, and a wine list curated by sommelier Jill Pienta of Pastoral, which will soon supply artisanal cheeses and charcuterie plates. (And check out the whizbang ice machine that churns out thick cubes that stay frozen longer.)
On the downside, if you think the wait for a table is long, the making of drinks from scratch is likewise a labored process. Also, the space, designed by Nick Bowers (Epic, Lillie’s Q) is a tad understated. A pair of floor-to-ceiling curtains peel back to reveal a lackluster mirror with zebra stripes on a brick wall. I keep hearing price complaints, but I’ll gladly go on record as stating that $11 is fair when compared to competitors in stylish ’hoods like Bucktown and River North. Besides, you can’t put a price on a grown-up bar in Boystown with elbow room for all. Seriously, you can’t.
The Elixir Lounge is now open at 3452 N Halsted St.