Top Bartender Chase Bracamontes’ Current Obsession: Neon Cocktails
The managing partner of Chicago’s new restaurant Chef’s Special can’t get enough of a blue algae powder and other bright cocktail ingredients.
What’s the key to beating Chicago’s brutal winters? Well, according to the new restaurant, Chef’s Special, it’s neon-hued cocktails.
“One thing that we’re trying to do that I thought would be fun aesthetically is to have a goal of making a lot of colorful drinks,” says Chase Bracamontes, Chef’s Special’s managing partner. “I have this image in my mind—and I hope it happens—where there’s just like pops of color studded all over the bar. [I’m] also using real ingredients that have pigments for the color rather than just like buying blue curaçao.”
For one of the establishment’s signature drinks, the tequila-based Blue Moon, which looks like it should be served in South Beach rather than in the Windy City, she makes her own sour mix. By combining lemon and lime juice, water and sugar with a heaping tablespoon of spirulina—a dried and powdered algae—she can achieve a natural electric blue.
“It’s supposed to be a little cheeky where it’s like a sour mix, but instead of being fake and syrupy, we use real lemon and lime juices,” says Bracamontes, who along with a team of five other partners opened Chef’s Special in Bucktown, a sister establishment to nearby Giant in Logan Square.
Spirulina is popularly used as a supplement and can be found in health food stores and markets like Whole Foods. It’s marketed for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and high nutrient properties, among a variety of other supposed benefits. While it can add a hint of flavor if used in large enough quantities, in small amounts it’s really all about the intense aqua color.
The cocktail list at Chef’s Special is divided into spritzes, mixed (shaken) drinks and stirred drinks. She uses brilliantly hued liqueurs like Aperol and Creme de Cassis in tandem with spirulina and other natural ingredients to create a rainbow of concoctions.
“I have a saffron drink, which is like faded, bright yellow and it’s really cool,” says Bracamontes. She’s also hoping to incorporate chlorophyll, the pigment found in plants that allows for photosynthesis—also available in health food stores.
Even though the ingredients are thoroughly modern, the bar’s interior design is a nod to mid-century Midwestern taverns and you might find yourself feeling as though you’re in a delightful time warp.
“The aesthetic of the room is cool in that the idea is for it to be layered in history, as if it was a bar from the ‘50s, but then it got revamped in the ‘70s and the ‘80s,” says Bracamontes. “It’s like the kids take it over and they change one part of it. It has a comforting homeyness to it.”
- 1.5 oz Blanco tequila
- .75 oz Pür Likör Blossom Elderflower Liqueur
- .5 oz Fresh lemon juice
- .75 oz House Blue Sour Mix*
- Glass: Old-Fashioned
- Garnish: An orange slice
Add all ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into an Old-Fashioned glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with an orange slice.
*House Blue Sour Mix
- 3.5 oz Fresh lemon juice
- 3.5 oz Fresh lime juice
- 8.75 oz Hot water
- 2 cups White sugar
- 1 Tbsp Blue spirulina, heaping
Add all ingredients to a medium saucepan over medium heat. Heat, while stirring, until the mixture is well integrated and the sugar and spirulina powder disappear completely. Let cool, and keep, refrigerated, up to two weeks.