“Prohibition is better than no liquor at all” – Will Rogers
Ever wonder how Chicago establishments managed to survive during the Prohibition Era? Tucked away below River North’s Kinzie Street, Chicagoans are able to experience a historical speakeasy today through Untitled’s intimate supper club and lounge. Patrons are not only exposed to a 1920s based beverage program and seasonal share able food menu, fake hublot watches but they are also able to undergo four different levels of experiences inside of the spacious speakeasy. After celebrating its two-year anniversary on June 16th, it’s clear that this “twenties-cabaret” personality still entices the Windy City crowd.
Although the beverage program at Untitled appears to be extensive and complex, the secret of how resident bar manager, Mike Karberg, continues to tantalize customers is by “keeping it simple.”
Being no stranger in the beverage industry, Karberg has learned through the years how to direct and maintain an efficient team. After adopting a four-step assembly/ingredient system to all beverages, the level of Untitled‘s productivity level had been maximized. By being able to serve anywhere from ten to the common 2,500 (weekend) patrons while keeping the original integrity of the cocktails, Karberg has successfully turned Untitled’s libation team into a well oiled machine.
After a few minutes of seeking out the entrance (which is slightly hidden next to the CVS on Kinzie Street), I slipped through the doors and made my way down the murky and wooden staircase into the candlelit foyer. At first glance, guests are able to view three out of the five areas of the supper club: the dining room, the whiskey library, and the lounge. The only rooms that remained hidden were the patio and the sidebar/side lounge, which (held behind the lounge) houses Untitled’s special performances and weekend entertainment. With the lights dimmed and a showcasing a heavy emphasis on dark mahogany, rich purples, and stained wooden furniture, the ambiance was decorated to resemble a typical speakeasy-a supper club in disguise.
After flipping through Untitled’s colorful libation menu, two themes that emerged were heavy focuses on American whiskey and gin-based cocktails. As recommended by Mike, the first cocktail (and his own personal favourite) to taste was the “Out Too Late.” Containing Luxardo Maraschino liqueur, Nolet’s Silver gin, Osocalis Rare Alambi Brandy, lime, and pomegranate, the cocktail was presented in a short-stemmed coupe champagne glass. Constructed to nurse the morning-after effects from staying “out too late” from the night before, the Out Too Late cocktail represents a common trait of a 1920s speakeasy: the act of disguise. Although its straightforward presentation and scent made it appear simplistic and light, the first sips of the Out Too Late were unexpectedly abrasive. Had it not been for its strong sour pomegranate flavour or citrus and Turkish rose notes counteracting its sharp finish, one’s effects from being “out too late” from the night before would have continued with full force. Because of its delicate, yet bubbly bite, I felt that this cocktail is perfect to sip on before a light meal. Not only does the intensity of the Out Too Late force your senses to be awakened, but it also leaves your taste buds feeling aroused and ready for more.
Next on the evening’s cocktail agenda was the enchanting and velvety French Potation, also being served inside of a short-stemmed coupe champagne glass. Made with Remy Martin VSOP cognac, Scottish Drambuie liqueur, Luxardo Maraschino liqueur, cava, lemon, and angostura bitters, the first taste of the French Potation was as charming and refreshing as a first kiss. Each taste following caused me to savour and enjoy each sip. The playful bubbliness from the sparkling cava mixed with the Remy Martin cognac transformed the sugary notes, surfacing from the sweet golden Drambuie, into subtle accompaniment. Not only was the cocktail aesthetically beautiful to look at, but it was also extremely pleasant and easy to drink. Paired with a heavier appetizer, such as Untitled‘s “lamb and beef meatballs” or a rich entree, such as the “smoked n’ grilled half chicken, the sweetness of the French Potation would lighten the heaviness of the dishes, as well as boost their ingredients. After frolicking with the alluring French Potation, my palate was refreshed and persuaded to continue with the evening’s liquid journey.
The third concoction of the evening was one of Untitled’s best sellers, the Pistol Smoke. Containing Monkey Shoulder blended scotch, chamomile tea, vanilla, lemon, and tobacco, the golden Pistol Smoke, like its sister cocktail above, was constructed to be a ravishing and amicable beverage, while delivering understated flavours. Recognizing the approachable aromas of vanilla and lemon zest even before tasting the cocktail made it easy to understand why the Pistol Smoke remains a popular choice among its patrons. Hidden underneath its soft and smooth layers of scotch and vanilla emerged the smoky and warm flavours of the tobacco, finished with a touch of orange. This gentle finish prevents this cocktail from being overly sweet and downplaying the focal ingredient, the scotch. With the Pistol Smoke lending itself to being slightly sweeter and satiating, I’d recommend this cocktail as an after-dinner beverage, even as a substitute to a dessert. From its first sip to its last, this darling libation leaves its patron with a pleasurable lingering taste.
Last, but certainly not least on the beverage journey, was the infamous Old Fashioned. Having tasted a few Old Fashioneds at other locations around the city, I was slightly hesitant on trying this cocktail. After all, how many ways can this traditional beverage be different than the next? Known as the “original” classic cocktail, the ingredients of an Old Fashioned typically include whiskey, bitters, sugar, and water. However, Mike Karberg’s version of the Old Fashioned was much more elevated and flavorful. Karberg and his team incorporate their private supply of Old Forrester as their bourbon whiskey component. Aged in specifically made oak barrels, Old Forrester has a rich and robust taste, making the Old Fashioned a canvas of flavour. Besides being greeted with a concentrated taste of orange angostura bitters, nodes of honey, black pepper, and spice were showcased within the full-bodied bourbon whiskey. Because this is such a straightforward and adaptable cocktail, I feel that drinking an Old Fashioned is a perfect selection for any time of the evening, male or female.
Although I had visited Untitled in the past, I did not fully appreciate the concept nor the experience until this particular visit. From the moment I stepped into this hidden supper club, I was transported to a world when the cocktail age first begun. Being guided by Mike and the hospitable staff into a world where libations reigned supreme, I learned and experienced the history behind the Untitled‘s beverage program. Giving credit to classic cocktails while adding a modern twist is not only the goal, but it is the collective mission of the supper club as a whole. Whether it’s for casual drinks, a meal, or a weekend destination, Untitled provides an escape from the normal River North go-tos and offers an opportunity to experience an extinct secret society.