The Art of Political Discourse Within the Bar: A Look at Chicago…

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Chicago is a city chock-full of political and delectable history.

Whether you think deep dish pizza, da Bears, or Al Capone, you’re going to find yourself surrounded by culture, creativity, and connection. It’s part of what makes the Windy City stand out for both those who work and live there and those passing through. For instance, did you know the South Side cocktail was created in Chicago and was the drink of choice for Capone and his cronies? Part of why the added ingredients of sugar, acid (lemon juice), mint, and soda water were added was because the gin ran by the South Side gang was harsher than the gin ran by the North Side, and the ingredients were necessary to make the drink more palatable.

“My Kind of Town”

rahm-emanuel-al-capone-the-chicago-way1You could say Chicago’s history is as wild as the culture of its service industry, but I can definitely say the crime has gone down since Capone and the South Side days while the service industry buzz has rocketed higher than the Sears Tower.

Richard Beltzer of The Drinkingbird and Bad Hunter sees a lot that makes Chicago one of the great cities in which to work:

“Chicago is humble and welcoming, but it gets overlooked in the realms of talent sometimes. I think it stands out so much, because of the love and amount of work people do to bring us more together. Even in the realm of politics, Chicago is super passionate…I have seen it bring us closer together to stand up and fight for what we believe in and critically use that power to share with others in and outside of the industry.”

Part of what makes Chicago a hot city is its political climate. We can all agree that now, more than ever, political conversations are a part of our lives, whether on social media or out and about. The bar scene is no different. Political talk is no stranger to a bartender. Beltzer had one way of looking at the situation, “There have been several instances where radical Trump supporters have talked politics at my bar while I’m bartending. I am not here to be a political moderator nor put in my opinion while I’m working. I’m here to generate a welcoming environment, so I don’t involve myself. Although it affects me, it doesn’t directly affect my day-to-day life. I fight for the little person, and what’s right.”

City of Big Shoulders

A colorful liquor selection at a bar in Chicago.For others in Chicago’s industry, they take politics to a larger scale. Robin Nance, a 27-year veteran of the service industry and Auchentoshan’s National Brand Ambassador, “We are all exhausted but energized at the same time. The past year has been one fight after another. You’re seeing more and more people discuss politics in public, especially bars. The service industry is very passionate and fights for issues that are important to them. I went to the Women’s March with a large group of service industry professionals (brands, bartenders, managers, owners). Regardless of what party you fall under, this administration is making decisions that will have a negative effect on you. It’s important to take good care of yourself right now. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

Chicago’s service industry embraces the political climate, both in times past and present. You’ll hear tales about the gangs of the early 20th century and bath tub gin, you’ll also hear about the racial divide and inequality and corruption that has long plagued its local and state politics. It’s a city aware of its problems, but not hiding from them. Many a restaurant and bar has a long history, and the newer joints often pay homage to the city they love. For instance, the urban joint, Scofflaw, it’s cocktail menu is gin-focused (a very Chicago thing), and the word as a noun was coined during Prohibition, a combination of the words scoff and law: a person who flouts the law.

Heart of America

But it’s not just about politics and being outspoken. For Chicagoans, there’s a strong love for local experience. Some of the most reknown bartenders in the world come from Chicago. If you haven’t heard of Charles Joly, the Chicago native is a core-founder of retailer Crafthouse Cocktails and James Beard winner. (Let’s also not forget he won the Diageo World Class global competition and won the award for Best American Bartender.) His skill and knowledge helped take local legend, Aviary, to the highest levels of cocktail prestige. We often hear about the talent found in New York City and Portland, yet Chicago remains somewhat under the radar despite enormous talent and industry size.

Nance reaffirms this:

“Chicago is a very close community. We are all good friends and support each other. It has a very small town feel, but it’s absolutely a big city. [We have] Midwest manners. Plus, she’s just so pretty. And clean.”

Do yourself a favor the next time you’re in Chicago, grab a drink and listen to the political conversation around you. Whether it’s at Lost Lake and you’re feeling a like some tiki history and a mai tai or you’re chowing down on a plate of chili cheese fries from Lindy’s (they’ve been around since 1924), take in the old and new history of Chicago and treat yourself. All opinions are welcome.

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