First Look: All the Cocktails at Parson's Chicken & Fish, Chicago
Note: First Looks give previews of new drinks and menus we're curious about. Since they are arranged photo shoots, we do not make critical evaluations or recommendations.
If adult summer camps were a thing, then a spot like Parson's Chicken & Fish could serve as the genre's commissarial lodestar. It has all the makings of the ultimate fair-weather snack bar: judging by the squat, hut-like architecture, the building that houses the dining room, main bar, and kitchen was almost certainly once a lowbrow fried-chicken shack to begin with; more of the restaurant is outside than in, with a large majority of the seating concentrated, beer garden-style, in a picnic-table-filled lot around back; and much of the food, by chef Hunter Moore (Girl & the Goat, Lula Café, Nightwood), arrives by way a deep fryer.
If the food and vibe say stay awhile, the cocktail program aims to make the argument more compelling. Max Wolod, Parson's general manager (XOCO, North Pond), and Charlie Schott, its principal bartender, have put together a debut drink list that in its broad strokes is light and playful and in step with the food, yet also betrays creative flourishes that keep things interesting over the course of, say, a long summer afternoon of day-drinking.
Parson's is the latest restaurant venture of Land & Sea Dept., a Chicago-based cohort of design-savvy entrepreneurs whose best-known work, Longman & Eagle, is at once an ambitious, Michelin-starred dining destination and an old-school whiskey-pouring neighborhood tavern. With the introduction of Parson's, LSD's methodology grows clearer: melt down a few cultural-historical references (Southern rock, classic American cars, a black-and-white photo depicting circa-1970s-style revelry), tap a promising chef to stir the pot, and leaven with a sprinkle of unassuming, modern-eclectic design. Big crowds are already thronging to the two-week-old spot when the weather abides.
On a recent evening, Schott greeted me at Parson's to walk me through the ingredients and inspiration behind all of the debut cocktails. Before joining the bar team at Parson's, he spent the past three years behind the stick at Longman. I sensed that during his time there he cultivated a sensibility that favors unfussy presentations and relies little on ingredients like elaborate syrups and to build flavor. He prefers drinks where the inherent qualities of the spirits, juices, and liqueurs do most of the talking.