Top Libation Locations

Posted on November 8, 2011 by Comments Off

As much as we care about restaurants and dining experiences, in what cities you will need cash for taxis, and the ins and outs of booking hotels, we (and our clients) also care – a lot – about the drinks.

Whether it’s a client happy hour or a much-needed libation of your own after a long day, we’re always seeking the best watering holes in the cities we visit.  Leave it to Men’s Health to publish a pretty thorough list for us.  Sure, it’s the “Drink Like a Man” page, but anyone can appreciate the places they rounded up.  Here are some of our notable calls-outs from the list:

Max’s Wine Dive, Houston
Refreshingly free of wine-bar pretense, Max’s serves top-notch vino with a side of country music and comfort food. Pair a Purple Angel with Gruyere grilled cheese. maxswine

I visited Max’s two weeks ago.  It definitely does not feel like a wine bar.  Located in a strip mall in the Heights neighborhood, it’s surroundings are nothing fancy – no wine bar pretense.  But the food.  It’s really good.  Melt-in-your-mouth Dublin Dr. Pepper & Pork Belly, Nacho Mama’s Oysters … it’s worth the $10 taxi ride from downtown Houston. 

Spur, Seattle
At this avant-garde gastropub, the chefs use local ingredients only—and drinks aren’t exempt. In summer, Spur serves mixers made from scratch—come winter, cocktails are dosed with house-brewed bitters.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a nod to this gem.  There is a reason it’s on Food & Wine Magazine’s “Go List” and a slew of other notable restaurant sites … it is outstanding.  Check out the blog for recent menus and forgive the kitchen for not keeping it updated – they’re busy making good food for you.  Food & drinks, I should say.  Go, soon.

PDT, New York City
People will come once for a fun gimmick—the hidden entrance inside a phone booth. They’ll return for the city’s best bartender, Jim Meehan—and the hot dogs topped with fried mayonnaise.

It’s always fun to play along with the secret password, speakeasy-style bars.  It’s even more fun to go to one with an amazing bartender.

Apotheke, New York City
The secret to an amazing date? Introduce her to something new: This erstwhile opium den serves “prescriptions” rather than drinks, and concocts them with apothecary tools. Depending on how your date’s going, you’ll either want an “aphrodisiac” or a “painkiller.”

This just sounds intriguing.  And with the number of times we’re in this city, it’s only a matter of time until we get to order a “prescription” of our own.

The Aviary, Chicago
Culinary explorer Grant Achatz reinvents everything from the ice (clove-infused cubes) to glassware (lightbulb-shaped glasses).

Aviary has been on my list since it opened. It’s lived up to the hype – and then some.  I really need to book my flight to Chicago.

Don’t Tell Mama, Las Vegas
Vegas lurches between overpriced glamour and grimy sleaze. But not here. Mama don’t allow pushy tourists, gilded walls, or overpriced drinks—just a laid-back bar luring locals with singing bartenders and a wicked pianist.

An off-beat “must try” to add to our list for CES this year.

Want to know the best bar in the US for meeting a future rock star? What about the best bar for Jimmy Buffet acolytes? Check out Jimmy the Bartender’s full roundup here.

Vintage Inspiration

Posted on August 2, 2011 by Comments Off

Old-time jazz, a gimlet, flappers … consider us sold.  We’re big fans of the throwback style.  We’ve talked about speakeasies and the Governors Island Jazz-Age Lawn Party aplenty, but it just keeps getting better.  More and more, people are flocking to events that feature a feel of the 30’s and 40’s. 

The old-fashioned theme that serves as the undercurrent to both of these is really quite fascinating; we’re seeing and experiencing it continue to refresh in new ways…

Read more over here.


New Adventures in Chicago Food-Stuffs

Posted on April 20, 2011 by Comments Off

Is it just me, or is Chicago just killing it with their food & bar scene lately?  Perhaps I’ve just got a new eye for that city now that I’ve (finally) visited, but regardless, here’s what is wowing me.  All found thanks to the culinary curator genius that is Tasting Table.  (Have you signed up to receive their mails? Do it. Now. You’ll be impressed.)

The new bar experience :: Take the mahogany bar top, shelves of liquor, leather bar stools and throw ‘em out the window.  Meet Aviary, Chicago’s cocktail joint with a twist.  

 Indeed, the place abandons the trappings of a bar, in both ethos and design: In the absence of a physical bar, drinks are fashioned in an open kitchen and delivered to drinkers by waitstaff. This is fitting, since chefs–not bartenders–are behind the menu: Heading up the project is former Alinea cook Craig Schloetter. To learn the cocktail ropes, he swapped lessons with a bartender from cocktail bar The Violet Hour on his nights off from Alinea. “I’d teach him how to make roast chicken and he’d show me a proper Manhattan,” Schloetter says.  His menu features about five classics and a roster of expectedly off-the-wall Aviary creations.

 For the Two in One, a gin-based White Lady arrives with a small bottle of carbonated Negroni–adding the latter to the former results in a layered, juniper-rich wonder.

  • Hot chocolate comprises a velvety base spiked with tequila and Fernet-Branca; in lieu of whipped cream, tobacco-smoked foam imparts a smoky muster.

 Just don’t ask for an off-the-menu creation; such requests are only permitted in the invite-only basement area, known as “The Office,” which offers an entirely different menu of drinks inspired by pre-Prohibition stylings and early medicinal cocktails–and yes, it has an actual bar.


 Brilliant place for the clients who have been there, done that and spent many a night in hotel bars.  I’m adding this to my list of must-visit places next time I’m in town.  In the meantime, want a peek at what this place really looks like? Check out this video.

Playground to table – the new ‘farm to table’ ::  A new brunch experience has come to Lincoln Park eatery, SproutIn the form of “kitschy humor”:

 After a bite of [the] peanut-lingonberry French toast ($8), an unabashedly rich peanut butter and jelly sandwich masquerading as breakfast, we say mission accomplished. The French toast is as fun as it is sophisticated, soaked in a batter laced with five-spice powder and studded with candied peanuts. The same intricacy characterizes Sprout’s steel-cut oatmeal ($8), in which carrots, bananas, black pepper-honey-maple syrup and Lillet-spiked marmalade mingle. Cooked risotto-style with water, sugar and more five-spice, the texture is a pleasant midpoint between the familiar oaty mush and a chewy granola bar.

 The flavors will change as fruit begins to hit Green City Market shelves, but the savory slant will remain.  For pure savory, there’s an elegantly arranged plate of sturgeon, smoked each morning and accompanied by a riot of flavor that includes pickled golden beets and watermelon radishes, deconstructed egg salad, potatoes with green beans and dill, and wedges of pumpernickel.


 And one of the neat little things: Sprout’s brunch menu items are listed in quotes – the oatmeal and waffle won’t be what you expect!  Hear a little more from chef Dale Levitski, including his focus on seasonal fare (warning: it will impact his menus, so what you see there now might be gone soon) here.

A pub crawl focused on beer ::  Enter the Chicago Beer Experience – a tour that kicked off this month with a half-mile of stumbling to different breweries in the Lakeview neib.  16 local brews from the likes of Delilah’s and Paddy Long’s and some education: ever wanted to know the beer-making process? 

Side note: if you are not a beer drinker, but want some local beer knowledge, you can still take the tour.  $30 for the tour, sans beer.  Sign up or read more here.


What’s Next – literally :: In the same family as Aviary (above), meet Next.  Here’s the scoop from Zagat:

 This highly anticipated follow-up to Alinea from über-chef Grant Achatz, is built around a daring concept, offering themed tasting menus that change quarterly to reflect a different global cuisine and time frame – and equally unusual is the booking system, with diners buying ‘tickets’ priced on a sliding scale according to day and time; the high-style West Loop setting, done up with upholstered booths, pedestal chandeliers and rich drapery, includes a chef’s table and a secluded VIP ‘speakeasy,’ while the adjacent Aviary bar serves crafty cocktails and edgy bar bites. 

 Achatz is seriously making waves and mixing up the traditional and expected dining experience.  Cannot wait to see more.

Drinks DO Matter

Posted on March 2, 2011 by 1 Comment

In the events world, drinks do matter.  My team spends a lot of time thinking about how every aspect of an event impacts the event’s goal (this can be everything from theme to location to timing to giveaways to…you guessed it, drinks!).

Admittedly, I’m a bit behind on my reading, but I just stumbled on an article from Northwest Meetings + Events about the biggest beverage trends in 2010.  So, without further adieu (plus a few comments and trends of my own).

  1. Unoaked Chardonnays are replacing big oak wines.  I’ll definitely remember this when making recommendations for the meeting we work on annually that often includes a winery tour and barrel tasting.
  2. Champagne sales were down in 2010, but Prosecco and Cava sales were up.  Good to know.  Guessing this is a product of the economy we continue to live in.  And, a great way to be budget conscious with client dollars.
  3. Sangria is making a comeback. Excellent; I love sangria.  And, the colors, flavours, etc. could be a nice match for some of my client’s events this year.
  4. Basic cocktails (martinis, margaritas, sidecars, etc.) are making a comeback.  Agreed.  I think this is why we’re seeing a rise in mixologists and homemade mixers.  Ask any mixologist and they’ll tell you the importance of the shape and size of ice.  Also note: these cocktails are great for building out themes around old is new, speakeasys and more.
  5. Novelty ways of serving cocktails and drinks is becoming more and more popular.  Anyone seen the beer pop or wine popsicles?  Again, this is a neat way to tie beverages into themes, goals, etc.
  6. Craft beers are hot. Especially in Portland where craft brewers are growing by leaps and bounds.  I’m really enjoying the sour beer movement and think craft beers are a nice way to make your event a bit more personal.
  7. The Slow Food revolution now includes locally produced beverages (all 50 states have at least one winery, brewery or distillary).  What better way to give back to a local community than to buy local?
  8. Wine-pairing and wine-pairing classes continues to rise in popularity.  See above. Also a great teambuilding/ team bonding opportunity.

What other trends are you seeing in the beverage world?

Round and Round We Go

Posted on November 19, 2010 by 2 Comments

I’ve found that event trends tend to closely mirror fashion.  And like fashion, the trends are cyclical.  Over time, the same themes repeat themselves again and again.  If I open the pages of any major fashion magazine today, I’m accosted with models wearing trends from the 30s and 40s.  Lapel pins and broaches, fedoras and rolled pants – what’s old is new again.  The same is true for events.

In recent months, I’ve had clients asking to recreate that 30s and 40s feel in their events.  They’re looking for speakeasys and smoking rooms.  The good news is that these themes are easy to recreate and can work for any type of event.  For instance, say you’re launching a new product.  Why not swank out the user’s experience with floral patterend couches with rounded edges, branded cigars and cigar cutters, metal cigarette cases and more?  Invite your guests to feast on pot pies and mini burgers while enjoying a Tom Collins or a Manhattan.

Incorporate your brand into speakeasy or movie theater branded event – why not recreate Casablanca featuring your product or company?  Invite your guests to dress in the theme similar to the Governers Island Lawn Party we posted about here.

And, if you miss this trend, just watch your newsstand for the next big event thing – I noticed the 80s is also making a comeback.  Who knows what we might create with a little Madonna, flourescent and pegged jeans. 

What other trends do you see events mirroring?

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