Earlier this week, for the first time in a long time, I found myself downtown with time to kill. I’d inched down the expressway in my air-conditioningless hooptie, believing easy pandemic parking was still a thing. So by the time I squeezed into a space six blocks from my destination, I was hot and bothered and in desperate need of an eye-opener. So I did another thing I hadn’t done in a long time. I popped into the Gage, planted myself on a stool, and ordered the bar’s signature Spanish-style G&T, the kind you get in a giant, sweaty balon glass that could support several goldfish if it wasn’t supporting iced Citadelle gin and the next morning’s regret.
Of course, the thing that redeems this kind of dissolute day drinking is the bottle of Fever Tree tonic water that comes to the side, infused with quinine, the miracle alkaloid extracted from the cinchona tree that’s kept malaria at bay since the turn of the 17th century.
That’s what I told myself anyway. The truth is modern tonic water doesn’t contain enough quinine to treat malaria, but it is the “most iconic mixer in the world,” according to Nick Kokonas.
No, Kokonas is not the owner of Alinea or Tock, but the long time Chicago bartender (Longman & Eagle, Green River), best known for his run at The Heritage in Forest Park, where he developed the Something & Tonic, a weekly rotating cocktail built on some kind of cinchona bark foundation.
Something & Tonic is also the title of his new historical cocktail book that examines the cinchona tree’s role in “imperial colonization, religious prejudice, denial of science, corporate greed, and extreme nationalism.” In other words: “the story of the development of modern civilization.”
It’s not a downer though. There are 60 original tonic-based cocktail recipes therein, from The Humble Highball to espresso tonic, from tonic and beer to the classic Spanish Gin Tonica. And you needn’t enjoy it in armchair isolation. On Monday evening Kokonas is hosting an actual IRL tonic bar pop-up and release party at Avondale Bowl. $30 buys your entry, a copy of the book, a swag bag, a spirits tasting, and a free cocktail from the menu Kokonas will be mixing. And bowling, of course.
Regrets are not included. v
Originally published in the Reader’s Food & Drink newsletter. Subscribe here.