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The Drawing Room: Shaking it up Chicago Style

Since opening in 2007, The Drawing Room, a 60-seat American restaurant in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood, has been praised by both establishment and social network media for its commitment to food-and-beverage excellence. Its talented executive chef, Nick Lacasse, presents a creative and distinctive New American menu that is complemented by Chief Mixologist Charles Joly’s well-crafted cocktails. The Drawing Room’s reputation is built on the strength of its food, beverage, and service, but in a city with a bevy of fine eateries, it may be Joly’s cocktail mastery that sets The Drawing Room apart and helps draw both visitors and native Chicagoans to its door.

Mixology Magnet

Locating the restaurant’s door might perplex newbies to the neighborhood (the restaurant is subterranean—no storefront beckons passersby), but once the entrance is breached, visitors descend a staircase and are pleasantly surprised to enter an elegant, intimate, welcoming space and to receive immediate and warm attention. This kind of a greeting was very much the intention of Three Headed Productions Owners Matt Lindner, Jay Runnfeldt, and Tommy Wang, a trio of mid-30s restaurateurs who also operate the successful Cans, evilolive, Privét, and Salud venues in Chicago.

The owners conceived of The Drawing Room as an intimate fine-dining experience where patrons could also expect exceptional, made-from-scratch cocktails, a broad array of excellent beverages, and top-flight service. They chose Charles Joly, a rising star in Chicago’s mixology circles, to direct the bar program. Lindner came up with the idea of tableside cocktail service, and the restaurant’s chief mixologist had a hand in the design of the handsome, custom-built rolling bar carts. Joly recalls, “I jumped in with both feet . . . and embraced the craft cocktail [concept] immediately. We really didn’t know how far our cocktail program would go.” Looking back, Joly admits, “Tableside service plays less of a role today,” but there’s no doubt that the restaurant’s cachet is reinforced when a skilled mixologist crafts drinks to patrons’ specs at their table.

Something for Everyone

Preparing distinctive cocktails at The Drawing Room is not a personal ego trip for Joly. “The owners have always allowed me carte blanche, [but] I’ve always respected the business end. . . I write my menu for my guests, not for myself,” he asserts. “While I like each cocktail for a reason, I may not drink them all. I want any level or style of drinker to feel comfortable and see that there is something for them.” For this reason, the chief mixologist has developed over time what he calls “a total beverage program,” noting, “My menu  . . . will reflect seasonality, a wide range of cocktail styles, a wide range of base spirits, punches, hand-selected teas, coffees, and nonalcoholic options.” Joly’s ecumenical program is working: more than 75 percent of patrons order a “Culinary Cocktail,” and 70 percent request a cocktail for dinner.

The Drawing Room Manhattan (Templeton Rye, Punt e Mes Vermouth, aromatic bitters, real maraschino), the venue’s signature drink, heads Joly’s current “Culinary Cocktails” 16-drink menu, but such creative libations as 13 Year Itch (Anchor Genevieve, Coffee Heering, Cocchi Americano, lemon) and Cohasset Punch #2 (Plymouth Sloe Gin, Beefeater, Benedictine, Baked Apple bitters, Fresh sour) add diversity to the list of choices, all priced at $13. Kim Bossé, director of operations at Three Headed Productions points out, “We offer three non-alcoholic cocktails on the menu, but we’re not limited to those. We have prepared over 40 infused tinctures, along with several syrups and specialty ingredients—[a selection] that evolves as the menu changes.” Joly adds, “Overlooking the customer who doesn’t drink not only leaves revenue on the floor, but ostracizes a whole segment of the population. Why can’t someone have a freshly made drink in a beautiful glass with a great garnish that doesn’t involve alcohol?”

Efficiency without Compromise

Joly also has adjusted his beverage program to function as smoothly as possible in the bar’s pinched space (considering the volume of traffic) and to deliver hand-crafted cocktails to guests within three minutes as often as possible—fulfilling the promise of exceptional service. To this end, the chief mixologist has engineered his cocktail offerings to be less labor-intensive (for example, simplifying garnishes and opting for less complicated preps) without sacrificing drink quality. Joly and his team utilize the kitchen for preparing infusions and fresh batches of fruit and vegetable purees and juices for the bar. On busy nights when as many as 350 to 500 drinks are crafted, Joly acts as the cocktail expediter, handing out cocktail assignments to himself and his able crew of mixologists at three customized bar stations so that orders can be prepared in the most efficient manner. At slow times, Joly will sometimes deliver drinks to diners to interact and elicit valuable feedback.

Bar Builds Business

The acclaim of The Drawing Room’s awards-winning beverage program, heralded by the media and word of mouth, draws clients to its private dining programs in the restaurant’s Dining Room (accommodating 50 for dinner, 100 for a reception), the more intimate White Room (room for 14 dining, 30 standing), and to Three Headed Productions’ late-night lounge/night club, Privét, which pulses after hours next door to the restaurant. Bossé explains, “The cocktail program is integral in attracting private party business. [Chef Lacasse] and I are able to work hand-in-hand to create a fully integrated event . . . It can be as simple as creating a custom-designed signature cocktail or doing an interactive presentation. Food–cocktail pairings are very common with large group dinners.”

Joly points to personal factors for the success of The Drawing Room’s bar program. He looks back to top pros who encouraged him to focus his creative energies on mixology—Chicagoan Bridget Albert, Steve Olson, Francesco Lafranconi, and Tony Abu Ganim to name a few—and he has attracted like-minded people who view mixology as their lifelong profession. He has selected his team from those who have worked the floor and, like his mentors, Joly offers the guidance to help them advance. “I want my bartenders to explore, to take control of the program. They need to be able to exercise and develop their creativity,” he explains. Joly also counts the compatibility and interaction of the kitchen and bar staffs as a strength, saying, “We work very seasonally in close conjunction with the kitchen.” He and Lacasse exchange ideas and products and often go foraging together among the farmers’ markets during the growing season, and seasonal drinks are sometimes inspired by the creative collaboration between kitchen and bar.

Summing up his mixology philosophy, Joly states, “I use the best quality ingredient for the job and make sure I really enjoy every bottle behind my bar as it can play some role. Our staff is well versed in the classics and knows our roots while having the skill set to travel off in new [directions]. I design a menu to show off the range of what we can do behind the bar . . . From there, we can get off the menu and tailor a very specific experience for each guest.”

The Drawing Room Manhattan

2 oz Templeton Rye

1 oz Punt e Mes Vermouth

2 dashes Fee Aromatic Bitters

Real maraschino cherry for garnish

Combine rye, sweet vermouth, and bitters in mixing glass. Add ice and stir well to chill and dilute. Strain over fresh ice into an old fashioned glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.

 

 

 

 

The Drawing Room
937 North Rush Street
Chicago, Illinois 60611

312-266-2694
www.thedrchicago.com

Owners: Matt Lindner, Jay Runnfeldt, Tommy Wang
Chief Mixologist: Cristiana Delucca
Executive Chef: Nick Lacasse
Director of Operations: Kim Bossé
Number of Employees: 26
Average Price Per Drink: $10
Signature Drink: The Drawing Room Manhattan
Pouring Cost: 20%
Average Bar Tab:  $40
Gross Annual Restaurant Revenues: $1.5 million 
Gross Annual Bar Revenues: $700,000
Seasonally Changing Well Pours

 

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