Along with the blur of holidays came a circumstance that found my family unexpectedly in the Chicago area. My grandpa had passed away. He hadn’t been feeling well for quite some time, and as life has it, the potential news may not have been considered far away but it never seemed true until it was dropped in front of us. We all heard the morning of the 26th, and we found ourselves on a plane in two days. Trips like these are a bit surreal. I loved that my whole family came together so fast and weather allowed for an only slightly delayed arrival in the O’Hare airport. The following days were filled with family, preparations, schedules and lots of reflection.
We ended up staying at the Hyatt Lodge at Oak Brook, a really grand place with a beautifully rectangular warm interior overlooking a lake. In the evenings, we all found ourselves needing to cleanse our minds with one another, compare our thoughts and stories and deliberate about our days. We found it relaxing to have a cocktail in the Hearth Lounge, and at first we treated this like a regular bar. We found that a big overlook as we got to know James, the bartender, though I do wish there were an alternate word, as he did much more than tend to the bar and its patrons. It was obvious that he knows his craft down to the most impeccable details (you can read his comment on previously posted “square ice cubes” here). Evenings where we needed an experience, a break, a distraction, when we could just say “something with rye” he knew of the perfect sip and crafted it perfectly. On a night where I was feeling especially vulnerable, following the night I had discussed in great lengths with my mom that I thought I was losing my sensitivities and social composure, James made me a drink he called a “Sunny Disposition”, a citrusy, elderflower treat topped with homemade ginger peach bitters. I really don’t think he knows how much that made my day and its bittersweet meaning. We had a Tombstone, a drink James explained as one that could very well fade away. My parents had a Manhattan with handcrafted cherry vanilla bitters (pictured above, photo courtesy of Dad). Every night, we learned new tips, tricks, about forgotten drinks and recipes, the rise and reinvention of the speakeasy and cities in the heart of it all, and overall, the importance of the art of a perfect cocktail. The precision, craft and obvious care this talented and kind barkeep shared was invaluable to us at that time. These sips among family were so much more than an alcohol and various mixers. It was a way to connect, a way to think and a way to just sit. What a wonderful way to toast a father, a brother, a grandfather.
This recipe is one Peter and I put together once I returned home to Seattle. We improvised a bit on the simple syrup, as we didn’t want to wait for it to be made and cooled, so replaced it with agave nectar instead, and we both thought it tasted great:
Combine all in a shaker and shake the hell out of it, and then shake it more. Garnish with a lemon peel. Cheers. Sip. Sip. Sip.