In a neighborhood that’s witnessing new juice bars and yoga studios pop up every week, ETA could be seen as but one of many horsemen of Highland Park’s gentrification apocalypse. Somehow, though, it manages to fit into its surroundings in a way that’s inoffensive, unpretentious and accessible. Will longtime, non-transplant natives be coming here for a beer? Maybe not, but they’d certainly feel welcome if they stepped inside.
The bar springs from the creative collective of James Bygrave, Ryan Julio and Matt Glassman, the same party responsible for The Greyhound less than a block away. But where The Greyhound brings diehard sports fans together with TVs, Midwest vibes and chicken wings, ETA opts for a more refined, intimate approach to imbibing, offering craft cocktails and a thoughtfully curated selection of beer and wine in a sleek yet understated environment. The brick-walled, modern minimalist interior is accented with midcentury and industrial furnishings, while mural work by local artist Tarajosu greets you at the entrance and seeps into the rest of the design. Conjured up by Mauricio Canales of Mercado and Bar Amá, the cocktail program incorporates truly unique ingredients with obscure spirits and liqueurs to create complex flavors you won’t find in any other bar nearby—and while Highland Park might not need another bar, locals can feel lucky that this is the one they got.
Good for: High-end drinks in a low-key setting. While the cocktails themselves are enough of a reason to stop by, the warm atmosphere is likely to make you stick around. Conversations are struck up and fast friends are easily made at the bar, where bartenders are eager to please and happy to spill on the contents of their concoctions. It’s an ideal place for a quiet drink after work or a grown-up night out.
The scene: Laidback locals from Highland Park and its neighbors to the east and west chat with staff at the bar or make themselves cozy on a nearby settee. As it gets later in the evening, DJs make an appearance and the place livens up to a comfortable crowd level—full but not packed, lively but not too crazy for those who’ve left their twenties behind.
Drink this: If you’re after something fresh and fruity, the Prettiest Girl of All Time ($12) blends Tromba tequila blanco with berry tea, sweet pickled kumquats, purple perilla mint, lemon balm and citrus cordial for a subtly sweet, mildly tart and uplifting cooler that will be gone before you realize it. The Penultimate Word ($12) could easily be mistaken for a take on a Last Word, but aside from gin, lime and green chartreuse, it bears little resemblance. Instead, Los Javis Mezcal Joven, cucumber purée, fresh dill and sal de gusano—sea salt ground with peppers and dried agave worms—lends the drink a palatable brininess and smoky umami flavor that plays excellently with the other ingredients (and no, we didn’t know we were drinking worm powder until we googled it, but that hasn’t changed our minds). On the spirit-forward side, the Howling Forever ($13) is a strong, aromatic blend of Four Roses Small Batch bourbon, Camus Cognac VS. Vittone, amaro, Vergano Americano and Corazon bitters, while the Mic Drop ($14) elevates Iwai Tradition Japanese whiskey and Axta Vino vermouth with Agricanto Paladin, a sweet wine-based liqueur with cherry and almond flavors, and fig and cinnamon bitters for a robust, velvety finish with notes of dark chocolate.
Our Tip: ETA is the perfect place to post up when the lines at Highland Park Bowl across the street have you rethinking your evening plans.