Cocktails & Spirits

Broken Shaker Chicago Takes Inspiration From the Windy City

Walking into the Broken Shaker in Chicago is a little like experiencing déjà vu. The bar is nearly identical to the one at the Miami Beach flagship

Both are located inside a Freehand Hotel, both are warmly lit, and both have plenty of space to drink and converse. In fact, it's safe to say that at first glance, you'll think partners Gabe Orta and Elad Zvi somehow shipped their entire bar from the Magic City to the Windy City. 

Look closely and you'll begin to see subtle differences at the Chicago location. The walls, filled with bottles of tinctures and bitters, are festooned with pinecone wallpaper. There's a fireplace in the corner, and a giant octopus is painted on the wall.

Because this is Chicago, the bar opens up to a lodge-like room, filled with mismatched sofas and plush rugs found in vintage shops around Illinois. And, of course, the bartenders are unfamiliar. (Although, after one evening eating and drinking, you'll feel like you know this whole new Shaker crew.)

The Broken Shaker Chicago opened this past June at the Freehand Chicago, at 19 E. Ohio St., in the city's River North neighborhood, right across the street from Eataly and walking distance from the city's famed Miracle Mile. The 17-story building dates back to 1927, when it was the Devonshire Hotel. It closed and reopened as the backpacker-friendly Tokyo Hotel before its transformation as a Freehand — complete with a Broken Shaker.

Bar Lab's Orta and Zvi took special care to tailor the bar to its adopted city while still keeping the Broken Shaker vibe intact. Orta explains, "We didn't want to bring a Miami bar to Chicago. We wanted to create our own story there. We hired all Chicago bartenders and got inspired by the city's rich culture and vibe. Everyone we met was very proud to be from there."

The cocktails are also Chicago-centric. Orta and Zvi, along with Chicago bar manager Freddie Sarkis, set out to create a cocktail menu that would embrace the city's specific tastes and culture. Orta says the team spent a long time exploring Chicago for ideas. "We came up with the drinks after spending months in Chicago and getting inspired by the city."

Ingredients are sourced locally, and cocktails (most are $13) will change with the seasons. Fall flavors are reflected in drinks such as the Autumn Cobbler — made with fig and pear shrub, sherry, balsam amaro, and Cana Brava rum — and the Campfire Boulevardier, with cognac, sherry, mezcal, Cynar, and a mist of tea. Other drinks include a Lavandula Collins — with lavender reduction, citrus, Campari, Beefeater gin, and sparkling wine — and the Fungus Among Us, made with Benedictine infused with porcini mushrooms and Ancho Reyes.

By far, the most unique cocktails fall under the "Chicago-Inspired" heading. These drinks really do capture the spirit of that city. For instance, Garrett's old fashioned takes Chicago's insane love of popcorn tubs mixed with cheese and caramel corn and blends the flavors into a glass. Local popcorn cordial, made with the same caramel flavoring used in the famous Garrett's Popcorn, is blended with Old Forrester bourbon and finished with salted butter and cheese bitters. In the same way that the popcorn combo inexplicably works, the drink's sweet and salty combo is amazing.

My favorite, however, is the Chicago dog margarita. Orta says he ate many a Chicago dog — which tops a wiener with pickles, tomato, mustard, hot peppers, and celery salt — for inspiration.

The cocktail version is made with a spicy mustard pickle shrub, Olmeca Altos tequila, and lime juice. The drink is served with a rim of celery salt and poppyseeds and then garnished with peppers. The drink is a lip-puckering blast. If it also included a teeny cocktail frank, it would be sheer perfection.

The Broken Shaker Chicago also serves food, where executive chef Jonathan Meyer turns out a small yet solid menu of seared Spanish octopus with charred scallion salsa verde, hickory, sunflower seeds, fingerling potatoes, caraway, and black sesame brittle ($16); a Cuban-ish sandwich of mojo roasted pork loin, seared pork belly, kosher dill pickles, Gruyère, and pineapple rum mustard ($14); burrata with wilted kale, maitake mushrooms, roasted squash, sage, and brown butter ($13); and a double Black Angus burger with charred Spanish onion ($15) that hit the spot on a chilly evening.

The Broken Shaker Chicago is open Monday through Saturday from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. and Sunday from 4 p.m. to midnight. 

For those who might have heard rumors buzzing about a third Broken Shaker planned for Los Angeles, Orta says any plans for drinking their cocktails in the City of Angels is extremely premature. Yes, the Sydell Group is opening a Freehand at 416 W. Eighth St. in L.A., and, yes, the 200-room hotel is set to have a rooftop pool and lounge, along with a living-room-like lobby, a bar, a restaurant, and street-level stores, according to the Los Angeles Times, but Orta quashes the idea — at least for now. At this point, we'll have to settle for the original Broken Shaker in our backyard and its sister location in Chicago for when we have a little wanderlust with our cocktail cravings.
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Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times. She has been featured on Cooking Channel's Eat Street and Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. She won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature about what it's like to wait tables.
Contact: Laine Doss