The Windy City is currently churning out the country’s most progressive cocktails, and the leader of this movement is Josh Pearson, head bartender at Sepia in the trendy Fulton River district. A native of Brisbane, Australia, Pearson landed at Sepia nearly four years ago after spotting the bartending gig on Craigslist—not exactly the place you’d expect a Michelin-starred restaurant to scout talent, but he’s manned the bar ever since.
His drinks are inspired by cocktail history (he makes a mean rye Manhattan—the classic recipe used north of the Mason-Dixon), as well as seasonal ingredients used primarily in the kitchen.
“I love rosemary,” says Pearson. “It’s one of the best scents in the world and pairs really well with tequila.” The coupling may sound like a head-scratcher, but just a sip of his South x Southwest cocktail will turn you into a believer: reposado tequila, St-Germain, rosemary, lemon, moscato and bitters. One won’t be enough—though three is probably too many.
If you can’t help yourself, executive chef (and a 2012 James Beard best chef great lakes nominee) Andrew Zimmerman’s menu is sturdy enough to offset the booze. Do yourself a favor and order the charcuterie plate. —Molly Mogren