It’s time to perfect your margarita. According to bartender Rachel Miller, focusing on summery cocktails is one of the best ways to get through Chicago’s harsh winter months. Want to lean into the season? She suggests classic cocktails that are dark and spirit forward or maybe investing in a bottle of bénédictine, which she describes as an audacious spiced liqueur. And as one of the co-owners of Kit: A Bar Supply Store in Irving Park, she is more than ready to provide the tools to help you make whatever cocktail you please.
Rachel, along with her twin sister Lindsey Miller, worked through most of the pandemic to set up the store—in fact it was in February and March that they finalized paperwork with City Hall and signed the lease. The pandemic wasn’t particularly challenging at first because the business was still being built and didn’t have to factor in too many issues surrounding closures and reduced capacity. However, one big shift happened along the way.
“When we started, the focus was going to be providing equipment to professional bartenders,” Lindsey says. “When we did start looking at an open date, it was clear we had to shift to the home bartender as our primary focus. Like everyone now has a bar in their basement and is doing the thing I did, using the back end of their spatula as a muddler.”
The conceit of the business was born from a lack of places for bartenders like Rachel to buy affordable, high-quality tools for making craft cocktails. There are places like Restaurant Depot that have low-quality items in bulk or cooking stores that have an expensive but not comprehensive selection. And worse yet places like Amazon or big-box home goods stores offer supposed “complete bar kits,” with no one to ask about the quality or intended purpose of each item.
At Kit, that’s definitely not the case. “I could talk to you for so long about a spoon,” Rachel says. As the professional bartender, her main role in the business is selecting the inventory and offering her expertise to customers. The store opened with the most basic items for a starter bar: jigger, shakers, strainers, and mixing glasses. From there they’ve slowly expanded to include a wider range of tools and styles of the basics, as well as bitters, syrups, recipe books, aprons, and more.
Lindsey has worked in the restaurant industry, but she comes from a theater and corporate background. After nearly 20 years working as a stage manager for storefront theaters in the city, she decided to step away from that world to go into business with her sister. Based on their history, it was a no-brainer. “We’re constantly around each other and always have been, so we’re very good at understanding each other’s personalities,” Lindsey says. Rachel agrees, adding, “We have really clear-cut strengths and weaknesses.”
Also familiar is the neighborhood where they chose to open up shop—the twins grew up in Irving Park and for the last eight years Rachel’s been behind the bar at Community Tavern, which is only a two-minute walk from Kit. When the store opened on November 28, 2020 (also Small Business Saturday), it was clear that the support from the neighborhood would be paramount in keeping the business running through the pandemic and beyond.
In the future the Millers hope they can expand the use of the space, pivoting back to serving professional bartenders in the city and eventually using it as a non-bar space for those professionals to hold events, have meetings, and just connect with other folks in the industry. But for now they’re happy to help you build the home bar of your dreams.
“Bright side of opening a business in the pandemic is that what we happened to open, one, coincided with one of the hobbies people have taken up,” Rachel says. “And two, that like, it is a really tenuous time for small businesses; obviously a lot of the focus is on bars and restaurants and live music venues and arts and theater, all of those sort of like experiential things, but also brick-and-mortar retail as well. I think we benefited from that renewed focus on small businesses, on local, on people and places you care about.” v