Drink of the week:
A Floating Orchid martini at Japonais
The damage: $12
Thousands of bars in Chicago, why this one? Though I've been to Japonais a handful of times, I've never, not once, so much as glanced at the first floor. The second I hop out of my cab and travel through the front doors, I make a beeline to the basement. While the upstairs surely boasts some swanky environs, I just love the comfortable class of the lower level, and, since I don't have an expense account to charge a $65 Kobe beef rib eye to, the lounge menu's maki mono, small plates and chilled martinis serve my wallet and I just fine.
How it went down: Having sipped my way through a fair share of martinis, I feel confident in saying that the Floating Orchid lands in my top three best-ever shaken cocktails. Most martini lists leave me pining for the saltiness of a Dirty, as too many spots fill their offerings with overly sweet mixes that make me want to gag. (Seriously, I once ordered off a 100-plus-martini list whose least-sugary drink paid homage to Superman, complete with an electric-blue hue and a plastic cube of "kryptonite." Talk about a cloying concoction.)
The Floating Orchid, though, has just a touch of sweetness; it tastes flawless and not the least bit contrived. Its pairing of fresh lemon and pear juices with vodka and tangy Cointreau results in a refreshing, slightly citrusy, but not at all sour blend that's as easy to take in as the breeze on the lounge's riverfront patio. Though the edible flower garnish that gives the drink its name is a nice decorative touch, I've yet to eat it. I said I couldn't afford Kobe beef, but, hey, I can at least spring for a veggie tempura roll and Manju buns stuffed with saucy braised pork.
Would I want to become a regular? The lounge's intimate seating setup, with short tables, leather stools and couch-like banquettes, makes it the perfect spot for a romantic evening or to catch up with friends. You can also reserve sections of it for large parties, so it's a good go-to celebration spot. Just heed this warning: If you want to toast your friends with a sake bomb, expect to get funny looks from the mature patrons sporting Dolce & Gabbana jeans. Maybe they should park it upstairs with the big spenders.
Dana Kavan scours the city for drink deals so good you'll offer to buy a round and creative libations that outshine your average on-the-rocks concoctions. Want to give Dana tips on where to rack up a bar tab? Share your finds before her next night out.