Bar Sótano: the latest entry in Rick Bayless' stable of restaurants

Bar Sótano: the latest entry in Rick Bayless' stable of restaurants
Alley entrance. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

After several weeks of soft openings, media previews, friends and family events and industry nights Bar Sótano, OPENING today, is ready for its close-up 

Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Walk east on Hubbard St. to the alley just east of Clark St. where you'll turn north down the alley walking past the blazing torches of Three Dots & a Dash to a rather inconspicuous door with pink lettering marking the entrance to Bar Sótano.

Get ready to board the century-old freight elevator and enjoy a mezcal amuse as you descend one flight below street level.

The elevator door opens revealing Bar Sótano (the Mexican word for basement) and the latest innovation of Frontera Group's Rick Bayless, wife Deann and daughter Lanie (Frontera Group’s beverage director).

The Bayless' team has transformed the former Frontera Grill storage room into something special.

The intimate 50-seat subterranean space simply stated is a Mezcal Speakeasy that focuses on agave cocktails and modern Mexican street food.

Chefs Rick Bayless and Rishi Manoj Kumar Photo: Carole Kuhrt Brewer

Chefs Rick Bayless and Rishi Manoj Kumar Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

At last night's media preview the tastes just kept coming from cocktails to a slew of shareable plates. Chefs Rick Bayless and Rishi Manoj Kumar (Frontera’s former private events chef) were on hand along with spirits director Lanie Bayless and bar manager Roger Landes (Smyth and the Loyalist) to guide us along the way.

The drinks

Taco al pastor in a glass.

Taco al pastor in a glass.

The cocktail list—inspired by the unparalleled bounty of Mexico’s markets—is punctuated by uniquely crafted mezcal and tequila drinks, all developed by Frontera spirits director Lanie Bayless and bar manager Landes. Health-promoting herbs marry in a homemade vermouth. Sugar cane is squeezed fresh for a touch of sweetness.  Chiles and fruits play off each other. 

The Sótano team travelled to Ejutla, Oaxaca, to blend a one-of-a-kind mezcal from barril and espadin agaves for their creative cocktails. Like your mezcal neat? You can choose from one of the largest mezcal collections in the nation.

Not into mezcal? No worries. There is a selection of Mexican wines by the glass and Mexican craft beer.

Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Throughout the drink menu there's a sense of playfulness marked by the cocktail names, combinations and serving styles. The Mango Chamoy, pictured below, ($13) comes in a plastic bag where you can easily picture someone drinking the to go drink while walking down a Oaxcan street on a hot day.

The cocktail menu is divided into four parts:

Mango Chamoy. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Mango Chamoy. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Fruit Stand mixes tropical flavors such as pineapple, ginger, mango and guava with spirits including mezcal, sotol, tequila rum & bourbon in four unique choices of fruity cocktails.

Botanica drinks are rich with Mexican herbs and fresh sugar cane infused into mostly agave spirits--a favorite in this category is the Poleo Negroni that combines Sotano mezcal, house-made Mexican herb vermouth and Campari for $15.

The Chile Stall features a Jalapeno Grapefruit cocktail with jalapano infused tequila Ocho Plata--the hotness of the peppers tempered with cool grapefruit and lime--then finished with a dash of Herbsaint ($14). Three other cocktails are also offered in this category.

The fourth category, Fonda, features one of a kind provocative inspirations that transform ingredients like the Guacamole cocktail that fuses Wahaka espadin mezcal, avocado, spicy tomatillo syrup and lime and the Tacos al Pastor that becomes a drinkable Montelobos espadin mezcal infused with the flavors of homemade chorizo, roasted pineapple, lime and cilantro.

The Foodsotano

The street food menu is filled with a variety of unique offerings from Oaxacan Drinking Snacks – Oaxacan peanuts with red chile and garlic, avocado dip, chile mixe salsa, roasted chapulines (grasshoppers), crispy Oaxacan corn tlayudas. $10 (that pair well with the Mezcal heavy drink menu) to Charcutería where you can order a board of everything for $28. OR you can also order individually. Selections include: Potted carnitas spread with pickled pigs’ feet $10; Homemade fresh panela cheese with Baja olive oil. $10; and  Gunthorp suckling pig ham with pasila chile and cacao $12.

Mexican Paella. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Mexican Paella. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

The Mexican Paella, cooked to order, is a special treat. The artfully presented entree comes with large fresh Gulf Shrimp, Gunthorp Chicken thighs, red chile adobo, roasted poblano, tomato, peas, avocado and chicken chicarron for $36. The dish could easily be split. Allow 25 minutes for prep.

Just Desserts

Natilla al Trquila. Photo: Carole Kuhrt Brewer

Natilla al Trquila. Photo: Carole Kuhrt Brewer

The menu features two desserts with a Mexican flair--both beautifully presented. There's the Donas con Chocolate fried-to-order donut-like fritters mixed with Mexican Hot Chocolate fudge and topped with Mezcal whipped cream (7.50); or Natilla al Tequila--a rich creamy custard infused with anejo tequila, plantains "Foster" and Mexican vanilla ice cream ($7.50).

The Vibe

The vibe is friendly, playful and laid-back. The decor is a classic late-1800’s downtown Chicago basement with rock walls and all. Muralist Juan de la Mora, from the Jeanne Gang studio, has created a floor-to-ceiling piece for the space. Long wooden benches backed with throw pillows line the walls and make for comfortable casual seating.

Where:   Bar Sótano in the alley behind Frontera Grill at 443 N. Clark
Phone:  312-391-5857 
Hours: 4pm-12am, Tuesday-Thursday; 4pm-2am, Friday & Saturday; Closed Sunday & Monday 

Bites of Chicago

Happy Hour at Funkenhausen funkenhausen-beer

The just launched Happy Hour (Mondays through Thursdays, 5 to 7 p.m.) at Funkenhausen features: $2 Sünner Kölsch, a light, easy-drinking pale ale with a cool backstory that is served as it traditionally is in its birthplace of Cologne, Germany. Kölsch is served in tall, thin glasses from specially designed trays. The quaffable, low-alcohol beer is automatically replaced upon finishing until drinkers say ENOUGH! 

Happy Hour food specials at Funkenhausen (1709 W. Chicago Ave.) include: döner kebap (flatbread stuffed with thinly sliced meat, sambal, cucumber yogurt, lettuce, tomato and onion ($8), rib tips (house-smoked rib tips tossed in a North Carolina barbecue sauce ($5), and a pretzel and garlic sausage served with whole-grain mustard ($6). 

Wine Dinners

Davanti Enoteca is hosting a five-course Truffle Wine Dinner on Wednesday, November 28 at 6:30 pm. The cost is $75 per person plus tax and gratuity. Featured dishes include roasted pheasant with macerated sun-dried tomatoes and black Umbrian truffles; chestnut tagliatelle with an oxtail, porcini, and truffle rage; and profiteroles with white truffle gelato.

Davanti Enoteca, 1359 E. Taylor Street 312.226.5550.

The Barn Steakhouse is presenting a wine dinner hosted by winemaker Greg Brewer of California’s Brewer-Clifton Winery on Wednesday, December 5th. The Winery’s Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs will be paired with classic dishes from The Barn’s menu. The event begins with a reception at 6:30 pm, followed by dinner in the restaurant’s Loft dining room at 7pm. Tickets for the event are $100 plus tax and tip.

The Barn Steakhouse, Rear 1016 Church St. Evanston 847.868.8041.

The Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza is open through December 24. Gift items range from ornaments and beer steins to cuckoo clocks and manger scenes. If shoppers get hungry, there are brats (with or without sauerkraut), hot chocolate, banana and Nutella crepes, tea, baked apples, and strudel. The market is open every day including Thanksgiving Day (11am-4pm).

Cellar Door Provisions is hosting Matt Mollo of Selectionaturel Winery and Mac Parsons of El Rancho Winery for back-to-back a la carte dinners on November 17th and 18th. Specifics on the menu, with the exception of fresh handmade pasta, are hush-hush. The restaurant is open Wednesday through Sunday for breakfast and lunch (8am-3pm), and Friday and Saturday for dinner ($46 prix-fixe).

Cellar Door Provisions, 3025 W. Diversey  773.697.8337

 Celebrate the release of the new vintage of Beaujolais Nouveau at the Chicago French Market (131 Clinton Street) on Thursday, November 15. Accompaniments include live jazz  from noon to 2 pm and 4:30-6:30 pm., along with samples of Marcel Petit Comte cheese. There will, of course, be wine. Beaujolais Nouveau is always released at 12:01am on the third Thursday in November, just weeks after the grapes for the wine have been harvested.

The nominees for the 2019 Jean Banchet Awards for Culinary Excellence  on Sunday, January 13 have been announced. Nominees for best restaurant are Arcadia, avec, Oriole and George Trois.

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