My taxi picked me up in downtown Chicago and I told the driver to take me to the Pilsen neighborhood, just three miles southwest of the Chicago Loop where I was staying. The area was originally inhabited by Czech immigrants who named the neighborhood Pilsen after the Czech Republic city Plzeň. The area then became predominantly Latino.
He argued with me and kept questioning why I wanted to go there. I couldn't understand why he was so resistant and explained that I knew exactly where I wanted to go.....Punch House, located in the historical Thalia Hall.
Thalia Hall, modeled after Prague's opera house, was built in 1891 by original proprietor John Dusek and the neighborhood's Eastern European immigrants. The space has been restored and today is a music venue/event space, as well as Dusek's restaurant and The Tack Room, a bar in the former carriage house. And, downstairs is Punch House.
For all the travel I do and all the places I have been, I had never been to Austin, Texas. When work took me there for an event, I made sure to arrive early enough the day prior so that I could explore the city - through food and drink, of course.
First Stop: Second Bar + Kitchen (200 Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78701)
Second Bar + Kitchen is Chef David Bull's casual, urban restaurant that sits next to his upscale restaurant Congress. I entered in the early evening and took a seat at the bar. I was tempted by the great wine list that offers 25 wines by the glass, but it was the artisan cocktails that grabbed my attention, especially the Gin + Jam. Made with Viennese Gin, the jam is made regularly with ingredients from the kitchen. I got the house-made mixed berry and fennel jam. The presentation is so simple - the jam is served on a spoon over the glass of gin. It's up to you if you want to stir it all in. The gin is still the dominant flavor of this drink but the jam added subtle flavor.
French Quarter, Bourbon Street, Pat O’Briens, Hurricanes, beads, slushies, all night debauchery….these are probably some of the first things that come to mind when thinking about New Orleans. Visiting New Orleans, it is impossible not to find a place to drink. But New Orleans has also entered the cocktail renaissance that has spread around the country. New Orleans is home to many traditional cocktails that can be found in some of the more historical bars in the city. And new bars have been opening at a rapid pace that offer a modern take on classic cocktails, using fresh ingredients and enjoying the art of the cocktail. From classics to originals, there are many places to get a great drink!
Many people think that cocktails were invented in New Orleans. While this isn’t true (the name “cocktail” first appeared in an upstate New York newspaper in 1806), there are a few drinks that New Orleans can proudly take ownership of, such as the Sazerac and the Ramos Gin Fizz, and a few French Quarter bars worth visiting both for their history and for their “featured” drink.