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Manhattan Project

Dana squeezes into the Matchbox for a sip of its signature drink.
Tuesday Sep 16, 2008.     By Dana Kavan
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

Drink of the week: a Manhattan

Where you can find it: Matchbox, 770 N. Milwaukee.

The damage: $7.

Why here? I can't think of any other bar in the city that's more strongly associated with a drink than the Matchbox is with the Manhattan. Every single writer in the city with an appetite for bourbon has penned an ode to the thing. I knew I couldn't carry on as a Chicagoan with any sort of authority on cocktails without heading to the West Town watering hole and ordering oneódespite the fact that Manhattans usually make me cringe. The combo of bourbon and cherry juice has always reminded me of cough syrup. But now I'm convinced it's not the drink's fault; true to its accolades, Matchbox's version made me a believer.

How it went down: A few notable characteristics make Matchbox's Manhattan stand out from the rest: it's affordable ($7 for a hefty pour of Maker's Mark), it contains both sweet and dry vermouth, and the friendly bartenders seem to have perfected the cherry-juice pour. Still, the drink's garnish really wins the raves; three or four booze-soaked cherries wedged onto a plastic sword rest on top of the glass. Popping in the burgundy rounds of tart fruit is like taking a shot of brandy, making the plain old maraschino taste like a food coloring-tampered sissy. I took my Manhattan on the rocks, because it felt like it was approaching 100 degrees inside the bar, but many patrons had it served up. Either way you take it, get ready for a drink with a kick and just the slightest relief of sweetness from the syrup.

Would I want to become a regular? The only other word mentioned more frequently in a story about Matchbox than "Manhattan" is "tiny." Matchbox has the distinction of being Chicago's smallest bar, but what it lacks in space in the long, narrow, triangular room it makes up for in character, with a disco ball and guitar hanging from a tin ceiling and random photographs everywhere.

The Black Keys played while my pals and I jockeyed for a comfortable position, settling against a brick wall that had a small shelf where we could perch our cocktails. Despite the snug environs, it seemed like most people were there for the long-haul, and we were more than content to stay for a second Manhattan.

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.

 

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