Baptiste & Bottle is fairly new on the Chicago dining scene. Situated on the 20th floor of the Chicago Conrad Hotel the bar and restaurant serves American food and cocktails with a focus on Bourbon and whiskey. When I first heard of Baptiste it was advertised as having a Bourbon cart accompanied by a “Bourbon Sommelier”. I was a bit skeptical to say the least, after all what is a Bourbon Sommelier?
“Approachable, bourbon-centric restaurant, serving an elevated American menu in an environment that is reflective of bourbon’s true American roots.”
I sat down at the bar on a Saturday afternoon and struck up a conversation with Jonathan, the bar manager. John held previous posts at Aviary and London House, good signs so far. I asked John what makes Baptiste & Bottle special in this ever-growing Bourbon world we live in. Before he got into the details he poured me an amuse-cocktail in a tiny glass. Served warm it contained Maker’s Mark, Seedling Farm’s apple cider, allspice, and bitters. John told me the welcome cocktail, given to all guests (I wasn’t getting the special treatment) gives the bartenders the opportunity to experiment.
In the next hour or so I got a rundown of what makes Baptiste stand out as a Bourbon destination.
- They have a “Bourbon Baron Program”
- Bourbon lockers
- A Bourbon cart
- A huge barrel stave wall
- Specialty Bourbon flights, cocktails, and a staff passionate about our favorite brown spirit
Did I catch your eye with any of those? Ok, these are each very cool features of Baptiste & Bottle that deserve a little more detail than a headline. The Bourbon Baron Program is their own take on a loyalty club. Trying different whiskies at the bar will net you an entry in their awesome leather-bound Bourbon book along with various perks. Including free bottles, private party invites, and early access to their new Bourbon selections. The Bourbon lockers are exactly how they sound, private little Bourbon cages to show off your taste and impress your friends. Buy a bottle from the bar and stash it in your locker to enjoy when you stop in.
The Bourbon cart is stocked with various brown spirits and all the ingredients to craft 2 of their specialty cocktails, ‘The Huntsman’ and ‘A Curtsy And A Bow’, pictures below. These are an experience to watch being made and to enjoy. While they can be made at the bar, table side from the Bourbon cart is really the way to go.
The barrel stave wall and various used Bourbon barrels on display make for a warm and welcoming atmosphere for the Bourbon fan. And they emphasize Baptiste’s dedication to ther chosen spirit.
Admittedly, Bourbon and whiskey selection at launch was fairly limited. Due to limited allocations of popular Bourbons, being a new bar, and probably other politics of distribution. Though they do present a choice of about 20 excellent Bourbons at reasonable price points. If you’re seeking an allocation Bourbon, such as Pappy, or a vintage Bourbon from the 60’s, this isn’t your destination. And that’s not the type of place they want to be. If you’re looking for an experience, unique cocktails, a great menu, and knowledgeable staff, Baptiste is worth a visit.
I stopped in once more a few days later to sit down with Beverage Manager, Michael Fawthrop. Mike honed his skills at Canon Seattle, home to over 3,500 whiskies, working with world-renowned bartender Jamie Boudreau. Mike shared with me his vision for 2017 at Baptiste & Bottle. He will continue to build and expand a strong Bourbon collection; he also mentioned adding more Japanese whisky. While staying true to their goals of being approachable, casual, and differentiating themselves from other hotel bars. You won’t find white glove service or super high-end cocktails. They do have Macallan 25 to satisfy that segment but they don’t plan to stock a lot of high-end spirits. This sentiment goes back to the cocktail focus we mentioned earlier. Baptiste is a place to drink Bourbon in an atmosphere unlike your neighborhood bar and unlike a fancy pants overpriced hotel restaurant. Mike and John have started with a unique concept that I think has hit the mark. It will be exciting to see how they build on this in 2017.