Five years ago, you wouldn’t have seen a cocktail bar in Uptown’s Lawrence House. Though it was constructed in the 1920s as a luxury apartment hotel, the building had long since fallen into disrepair and was in foreclosure, notorious for its numerous code violations. But in 2013 the Chicago-based investor Cedar Street bought the building and began renovations, restoring an indoor pool that hadn’t been used since the 1930s and adding a 7,000-square-foot gym and rooftop deck, along with other amenities. Of course, they also jacked up rents (formerly as low as $450 a month) and as a result faced criticism from community activists for pricing out the existing tenants, many of whom were elderly or disabled. Now $925 a month will get you a 235-square-foot studio (about the size of your average college dorm room); a three-bedroom unit is $3,000.
Larry’s, a cocktail bar from the owners of Heritage Bicycles—the Lakeview-based coffee and bike shop, which also has a cafe in the Lawrence House—opened in February. It occupies a small space that opens onto the lobby, boasting just 21 seats (16 located at the four tables, plus another five at the bar) and some room in the middle for standing around a long communal table. Even early on a Friday evening most of the stools were occupied, but patrons can also take their drinks into the building’s spacious lobby, which looks like a lounge crossed with a library and a turn-of-the-century train station. A curved stained-glass ceiling/skylight (original to the building) and geometric chandeliers illuminate couches, armchairs, and long wooden tables with their own lamps and built-in electrical outlets. Meanwhile the bar itself is cozier than the lobby but has a similarly old-timey feel, with vintage art on the walls (including several display boxes filled with pinned moth specimens).
The menu was created by Sportsman’s Club vets Wade McElroy and Jeff Donahue; in addition to eight specialty drinks there are a dozen classic cocktails and a brief but solid list of beers (four on draft and six by the bottle) and several wines by the glass. Even the signature cocktails don’t stray far from the classics: a vodka and soda called Lady Louise adds Chareau aloe liqueur and lime cordial, while a twist on the daiquiri, here dubbed Donmoor, features gentian liqueur and sherry in place of simple syrup.
In some cases they go wrong; a salted coffee old-fashioned has a cloying sweetness that can’t be rescued by the slight bitterness of the coffee flavor. But the odd-sounding Rainbo successfully pairs bitter Campari and grapefruit juice with earthy beet juice, rounding things out with a barely smoky scotch and a hint of spiciness and fruit from ginger beer and raspberry juice. And the daily punch—on our visit, bourbon with Aperol, Cocchi Americano, a couple types of bitters, and lemon juice—is so well balanced that it’s hard to pick out any one flavor. It’s boozy but goes down way too easily. My favorite, though, is a twist on the Sazerac called the Uncle John that substitutes mezcal for rye and adds Braulio amaro and pineapple syrup to the classic absinthe and Peychaud’s bitters. It’s a smoky, herbal, almost minty drink with a slightly bitter finish; the pineapple blends in so well you can’t really taste it, but there’s a slightly fruity aroma.
Nearly everything about our visit to Larry’s was pleasant, from the friendly, attentive service to the generally high-quality drinks. In neighborhoods already packed with cocktail bars, like Logan Square or the West Loop, the small bar would barely be a blip on the radar. In Uptown, though, it’s an oasis in the desert. The neighborhood can lay claim to the venerable Green Mill, but despite the “Cocktail Lounge” part of its name the jazz club isn’t much known for cocktails. Neither is any other bar in the immediate vicinity. Insofar as any neighborhood really needs a cocktail bar, Larry’s is fulfilling that need in Uptown. v
RLarry’s 1020 W. Lawrence, 312-841-7149, larryschicago.com