To hear barman Danny Shapiro describe it, gin has a mystique, a brooding beauty, that belies its virgin clarity. "For whatever reason, when I think of gin, the first image that comes to mind is Edward Hopper's Nighthawks—and I mean that in the most complimentary way," says Shapiro, 25, who last month opened Scofflaw, Logan Square's newest cocktail destination, alongside a crack team of fellow bartenders and kitchen talent. "It's got something that sticks with you, something that you're not entirely sure of, so many details to dwell on, maybe a harsher undertone, but still a romantic vibe. I understand that it's not a bar," he says of the scene depicted in Hopper's 1942 masterpiece, "nor are the people depicted within drinking gin, but it still embodies the spirit of gin for me."
That spirit is alive and well at Scofflaw, which blends the ethos of an affordable neighborhood bar with the exacting tenets of a craft-cocktail haven. An impressive collection of gins, easily surpassing 40 bottles, decorates Scofflaw's richly painted antique bar. Practically every variety of gin is represented, from London drys, Old Toms, and Dutch genevers, to the loosely defined but growing category of American gins. "Our bar program's inspiration comes from our love of gin," Shapiro says, "and the resurgence is a telling sign that the time is right."
Scofflaw's cocktail program likewise favors gin-based libations, which plumb the intriguing depths of this long marginalized but lately resurgent spirit. Shapiro, who earned his stripes tending to the cocktail program at Perennial (now Perennial Virant) and later backing up Paul McGee at The Whistler, has been careful to temper his and his bar staff's love of gin in order to remain accessible to drinkers of all tastes (a position that one Chicago cocktail writer took issue with, however misguidedly), resulting in a debut menu of four gin cocktails out of eight. Lucky for us, Shapiro's passion for this versatile, engrossing spirit finds expression as much in his poetic musings as it does through his fine drinks.
Here's a look at the current offerings, along with a preview of a newcomer to the list that leans longingly toward summer.