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Where to Try Large-Format Cocktails Around Chicago

It started with an explosion. More specifically, the Cocktail Explosion at NoMad Bar in New York City, which inspired bartenders throughout drinkland to supersize their drinks. There are a few key distinctions to make about large-format cocktails, the latest trend striking Chicago bars. These are not punches — equally oversized alcoholic beverages that rely on an oligosaccharide base to balance a strong sprit, weaker sprit and acid. They are also not bottle service, although they revolve around the same concept of luxe drinking for a large group. Large-format cocktails feature classic or house recipes served in unique vessels with appropriate garnishes.

At Fulton Market Kitchen, hand-painted towers are filled with mezcal margaritas and Moscow mules. “We wanted to try and find a way to create a unique communal drinking program for FMK,” says beverage director Brian Sturgulewski, who also pioneered the porron program at Bordel. “With a little help from some of the artists who work at FMK, I found these really cool towers reminiscent of what you would almost find in a sports bar, like a beer tower.” For the mule, vodka, fresh ginger, lime and mint are combined and served over crushed ice in the tower, which is adorned in silver filigree. It serves between two and five people for $70. Sturgulewski purposely introduced the program, dubbed “Cocktails As Big As Your Head,” with four classics, but will soon fill the towers with house concoctions, such as The Whites of Their Eyes (scotch, smoked tea-infused sweet vermouth, tart cherry, lime and bitters).

Spirit guide Nandini Khaund also relies on adaptations of classics for the “Cocktail Installations" served at Cindy’s, the rooftop bar dotting the top of Chicago Athletic Association. On her opening menu, she offers the Grey Garden (gin, white wine, crème de violette, night-blooming jasmine tea, lemon and honey) as well as the Kick in the Daisy (ancho chile-infused Reposado tequila, Licor 43, watermelon, lime and pink sea salt), each of which serves six to eight people. "I love the idea of sharing an experience of a cocktail,” she says. “Of course, the buzz is fun, but it's also like watching a movie with a friend or seeing a show — you drink something that's composed to make you feel a certain way and conversation swells around it.”

The Dawson takes the communal drinking to another level with its tableside drink service. Vintage gold punch carts outfitted with ornate serving ware, such as a glass orb held up by a metal octopus, serve cocktails including the Octopus's Garden (rum, white port, local fruit, house-grown herbs, bitters and citrus). It's one of five large-format libations that will be served this summer, including one served in a thermos and another using The Dawson's hand-selected single-barrel bourbon. "The presentation is what will set these cocktails apart," says head bartender Harrison Ginsberg, "I haven't seen anything like this in Chicago." The Dawson's large-format drinks hit the menu on June 23, so you have some time to gather your favorite cocktail cohorts.

-Sarah Freeman


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