Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Cocktailing Chicago: The Matchbox

Chicago's matchbox is the cutest, tiniest little place you will ever get a drink that will knock you on your ass. It has the distinction of being the only bar we visited that actually looks like a bar from the outside, but you might miss it anyway, because it's about eight feet wide. Inside is a long bar with a single row of bar stools - there's about three feet between the first stool and the wall, and it only narrows as you go back.

It's even tinier than it looks.

I know this may sound like somebody's claustrophobic nightmare, but I just loved it. Somehow, squeezing yourself past other patrons to get to the bar, or the bathroom, breeds a bizarre sense of camaraderie. It's a feeling of community born from the shared experience of shoehorning yourself into this itty bitty bar to get a beer on a Sunday night. Maybe it's a trick - my shoulder is touching this person's shoulder, so we must be friends - or maybe I just liked it so much because it reminded me of college, where everyone seems willing to jam themselves into a tiny space with relative strangers as long as there's free food or drink involved. Whatever the reason, I completely fell in love with the feel of this bar - cool and insidery, but in a totally down, unpretentious way. A place can't be fancy if you have to make physical contact with 20 strangers to get to the bathroom.

By some stroke of luck Sarah, Rebekah and I managed to snag three consecutive barstools so we could get down to the business of drinking. The bartender was just the sort of woman you would expect to find behind the bar at a place like this - friendly but no-nonsense, chatting with regulars while slinging cocktails at alarming speed. The drinks were hit or miss. My gin blossom, a combo of gin, lemon, and elderflower liqeuer, was okay, but Sarah's lemon drop just tasted like vodka (okay, I guess, if you want a glass of vodka, but not if you ordered a cocktail), and Rebekah's Manhattan was overly sweet and watered down. My favorite drink I had here was just a plain old margarita, although I should probably qualify that by mentioning that by the time I tried it, I'd already had two other (quite strong) drinks.

The gin blossom.

The great thing, if you can find a drink you like, is that the bartenders don't skimp on quantity - the martini glasses are the same size you'll find at other bars, but with each order they give you the cocktail shaker used to make the drink, which has enough liquid in it to fill your glass over again. So it's really like getting two drinks for the price of one. Of course, they leave the ice in the shaker, so you'll have to drink your original drink first or your leavings will get a little watered down. Beers are bizarrely expensive ($4 for PBR? What?), so if your goal is to get the most buzz for your buck, you're definitely better off with a cocktail.

So: maybe not the greatest place for finely crafted cocktails, but definitely worth checking out. The whole thing just felt so comfortable - like I was always meant to be at this particular bar, with these people, sipping a Fin du Monde and melting into the music, and the atmosphere, and the perfect Sunday night.

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