The person behind the person behind the bar | Food & Drink Feature | Chicago Reader

The person behind the person behind the bar 

Some of Chicago's savviest bartenders detail their favorite drinks, hangover cures, pit stops, and more

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As the thirsty Reader staff fanned out across Chicago to bring you our neighborhood bar guide, we realized we had an opportunity in our hands. An excuse to go to our favorite bars is also an opportunity to ask bartenders the answers to questions we've always had in the back of our minds. What should I get? What's the best way to stave off this looming hangover? What's the worst shit that's ever gone down at your bar? And where do I go after you close, when the last place I wanna be is home? —Asher Klein

click to enlarge Jason Baldacci
  • Jason Baldacci

Jason Baldacci, beverage director for the Bluebird, Telegraph Wine Bar, and Webster's Wine Bar

Death row drink
I'd say either a Lagunitas IPA from the tasting room in Petaluma, California, or a Sazerac made by Stephen Cole of the Barrelhouse Flat

Hangover prevention
Pad kee Mao and a lot of water.

After last call
If the Tamale Guy isn't around, I'd go for tacos from Arturo's or the Wendy's drive-through route.

Hair of the dog
I've always been a bitters-and-soda guy (I like to use both orange and Angostura bitters), but when I go to Longman & Eagle at brunch on Sundays, I've been having the guys over there mix Half Acre Daisy Cutter with orange juice. I call it the "Driving Miss Daisy Cutter."

Customer apology
I did have a lady leave a Victoria's Secret bag in the bar once. I don't think she felt too proud when she came back in, hungover, to pick it up.

Kicked to the curb
I'm not sure how interesting it is, but it never ceases to amaze me that people think they will get served faster (or at all) when they yell and shout at you while you're busy.

—As told to Kate Schmidt

click to enlarge Janada Halbisen-Gibbs
  • Janada Halbisen-Gibbs

Janada Halbisen-Gibbs, bartender at Big Chicks

Death row drink
I would say this al fresco margarita that I had—fresh lime, sour, jalapeño, cilantro, and a ton of good tequila—in Hawaii, sitting in the sunshine by an infinity pool. You don't see the rim of the pool; it just looks like it keeps going off into the water.

Hangover prevention
Eating something. You have to set up a solid foundation, eating food that absorbs alcohol—soup and salad won't do. Drink lots of water. Don't mix your alcohol, and stay away from sugary drinks. I think that if you avoid excess you're not going to have hangovers. Pace yourself. If you start doing shots late at night, you're going to have a hangover.

After last call
I usually come home and [my partner] just makes me something. I'm a fan of—man, what is my favorite? Homemade mac and cheese.

Hangover cure
Again, lots of water. I like coconut water. Coconut water has more electrolytes in it than Gatorade and Powerade. It's like the magic drink, and it rehydrates you faster than water. Definitely that, or you can get the little Pedialyte powder packets, which you can just squirt in a glass of water. One of the other tricks is to drink that before you go to bed. And regarding eating off a hangover, I have to say that even though you're not necessarily craving it, my two favorites are a classic BLT or a Cobb salad, which hits the spot. It's pretty hearty, but you're also getting nutrients back into your body. Probably with a side of hash browns.

Customer apology
The question is, actually apologizing for it? People do a lot of hilarious or wretched things, but they never say they're sorry. So there was a guy who was making an ass of himself. He was definitely drunk, with his friends, and then he lost it on our coat-check guy, saying that he had stolen the coat—you know, all of his stuff, his car keys and his credit card and his phone was in it, and—he's drunk. He's going on and on about these things. He came in the next day, wearing his coat—uh huh—and had forgotten that he'd actually left it in his friend's car. He was extremely rude, but he did come in and apologize. He also left an envelope with a tip in it for the guy that he lost it on.

Banned customer
I've never actually had to ban anybody. I've had to enforce it for people. But I've never actually had to do it myself—well, because I usually have to work the daytime shift. I have a really great crowd, and I've been blessed to never have to do it myself, but I will put it out there that it does happen, and the word spreads really fast. The things that will get you kicked out—violence, drugs, and being disrespectful—will get you banned without our batting an eye. We're all there to have a good time. We don't settle for any sort of homophobia, obviously, working at a gay bar.

I've definitely had guys come in and be like, yeah, you know, we're here to pick up chicks, and they look around and they're like, wow, there's a lot of guys here. Mostly funny, funny phone calls that I'll get—people being like, "Hey, you have a lot of big chicks there?" I'll be like, "Not so much chicks, but tonight's Bear Night. There's a lot of handsome, big, burly, hairy guys."

—As told to Sam Worley

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