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Photograph: Andrew Nawrocki

Vaportini tasting at Red Kiva | The Scene

Freebasing alcohol in the West Loop.


Wednesday, January 2, 7:13pm As in the peer-pressure scene from every anti-drug PSA, Julie Palmer hands me a glass straw and tells me to take a hit. Only we’re not smoking anything. Alongside Palmer’s business partner, Jack Faller (pictured), we’re freebasing alcohol using the Vaportini, which she invented in 2009 with help from her engineer father and began selling online in December. Lined up on the bar at Red Kiva (1108 W Randolph St, 312-226-5577), the West Loop club Palmer co-owned until last February, are glass globes the size of an orange. Each is filled with a shot of liquor and rests atop a pint glass. The heat from a tea-light candle in the bottom of every glass turns the liquor gaseous. I stick the straw through a small hole in the globe and suck in a drag of invisible Knob Creek bourbon fumes. It’s warm, retains its flavor and gives an instant, though brief, buzz. “Some cocktail purists say this is blasphemy, and some say it’s another evolution,” Palmer says. “The intention is not to replace drinking,” Faller adds. Palmer envisions restaurants using the Vaportini in a dessert course or clubs making it a bottle-service extra. “We’re going top tier first, but there are other options,” Faller says. “Jack had the idea,” Palmer interjects, “that if the Vaportini doesn’t take off, we should market it to stoners as the Vodka Bong.”

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