When Chicago restaurateurs Michael Kornick and David Morton (DMK Burger Bar, Fish Bar) decided to use Morton's office, located in a raw brick building hidden along an industrial corridor on the city's North Side, as the venue for the next dining project, the initial concept was to convert the space into a wine bar. Soon their idea evolved in a new direction, and the unassuming building at 1664 North Ada Street was on its way to being an intimate modern tavern. The music would be vinyl, and the ambiance, mostly candle-lit. As for the drinks, they wisely hired away cocktail expert and affable "spiritual advisor" Tim Lacey from his previous post at Ripasso to run the Ada Street beverage program.
Prior to his short stay at Ripasso, Lacey spent three years alongside Charles Joly at one of Chicago's finest cocktail destinations, the Drawing Room. Before that, he was tending bar and imagining creative new cocktails for the Spring Group, which at that time included the Green Zebra, Custom House, and Spring, now closed. But it was his stint at the legendary Evanston restaurant Trio—owned by Henry Adaniya, onetime culinary home of chef Grant Achatz, now closed—that Lacey considers his most formative.
"It was there that I started to accept this as a career," Lacey says. "Henry had no [freaking] business hiring me. He really encouraged me and pushed me. The service bar was back in the kitchen, so 10 feet away from these amazing chefs. It dawned on me that not only could this be a career, but also, 'Hey, wait, they have all this [stuff] that I could steal, techniques I can steal, ideas I can steal.' It really opened my mind... The man handed me a career instead of just a job." Lacey has since approached cocktails with the palate, technique, and high standards of a fine-dining chef, which is evident in the debut menu at newly opened Ada Street.
The 14-drink list is ambitious, with a gradual progression from lighter, apertif- and gin-driven items to more robust cocktails, long on brown spirits. Lacey favors clean, unfussy presentations, preferring to let the spirits—which he selects with great care—to speak for themselves. The resulting cocktails—aptly named after pieces of music—tend to sing quite beautifully.