Holiday Cheers: The best seasonal drinks in Chicago

This weekend’s Wisch List newspaper column from The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.)

By Dave Wischnowsky

The WISCH LIST

Before he left Yale to become president of the University of Chicago in 1890, William Rainey Harper was billed as the “busiest man in America.” And it was said his stamina was fueled by eggnog.

Yes, eggnog.

According to Fanny Farmer’s 1904 cookbook, Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent, eggnog – infused with brandy or rum – was considered a “strengthening” drink at the turn of the 20th century. Sort of an ancestral Red Bull, I suppose.

In his biography about Harper, Young Man in a Hurry, Milton Mayer wrote that a typical day for the dean of Yale Divinity School unfolded as such: “His schedule took him to his first class at 7:30 in the morning. He taught until 11:00, and went to his office to work on his mail, discuss perhaps a dozen matters with each of his five assistants, and drink a quart of eggnog at his desk. Catching the 1:00 o’clock train to New York or Boston, he would deliver a lecture in the afternoon and another in the evening. The midnight train took him back to New Haven and his study.”

Upon his move to Chicago, the U. of C. writes on its website, “Harper’s to-do list lengthened – but his lunch of eggnog remained in force.” For Harper, the drink was a treat that apparently never went out of season. But if you want to enjoy a seasonal beverage in the Windy City this month, I suggest warming up with these choices at the following hotspots:

Glögg at Simon’s Tavern

This past March, I visited Simon’s Tavern, the cozy watering hole that’s anchored Chicago’s Swedish enclave of Andersonville since 1934, and placed my order: a glass of the bar’s famed glögg.

The bartender promptly scolded me for not ordering it much earlier in the winter season.
Simon’s (5210 N. Clark St.), known as the “home for glögg in Chicago,” specializes in the traditional Swedish drink. Dating back centuries, glögg is served hot with a side of ginger snap cookies and made from a combination of port wine blended with aquavit (Swedish brandy), raisins, orange peel and other spices. The drink is delicious and perfect for a cold winter’s night. Or a chilly afternoon.

Hot chocolate at Mindy’s Hot Chocolate

When you put “hot chocolate” in the name of your restaurant, you had best make sure that you serve a mean cup of it. With that in mind, Mindy’s Hot Chocolate, the popular eatery and dessert bar in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood, has indeed earned its rep – and justified its name.

As the mastermind behind Hot Chocolate (1747 N. Damen Ave.), pastry chef Mindy Segal serves up an array of contemporary American cuisine, which can be accompanied by rich flavors of hot chocolate that include dark, Mexican, chai and pumpkin white. Each cup also comes with Mindy’s homemade marshmallows.

If you’re not in the mood for cocoa, the menu also offers hot buttered rum and other warm mixed drinks to spice up the season.

Tom & Jerry at Miller’s Pub

Since 1935, Miller’s Pub (134 S. Wabash Ave.) has been as much of an institution in Chicago’s Loop as the “L” tracks. Frequented by tourists, city folk and celebrities, the restaurant is best known for its BBQ Canadian baby back ribs but, during December, it’s also famous for its signature holiday drink: The Tom & Jerry.

A mix of rum, brandy, egg whites, sugar and vanilla served in a coffee mug with a stick of cinnamon, the Tom & Jerry is a unique concoction. It also happens to be my favorite Chicago holiday spirit to put me in the holiday spirit. Cheers.