Bar Tripping: Barrelhouse Flat | Chicago, IL

In a new photography column, Daniel Krieger travels the world to capture its most photogenic bars and cocktails. Up now: Chicago's everyman craft cocktail bar, Barrelhouse Flat.

A Whiskey Smash with Old Grand-Dad. While Barrelhouse Flat isn’t a whiskey bar, per se, it features an impressive full-page list of everything from Buffalo Trace to Henry McKenna. [Recipe]

Patry+Kline, an L.A.-based team, designed the two-story space, located within a late-19th-century building that has been a perpetual bar and one time taco stand. This lamp hangs above a leather poker table, yours to host an unofficial poker party with cards from the bar.

The Smoke-Filled Room from bartender Jonathan Lam featuring rum, scotch, banana syrup and root beer bitters. [Recipe]

Bartender Mark Brinker pours Very Old Barton bourbon (left). The Absinthe Minded, a tequila-based cocktail crafted by Patrick McNicholas and featuring lime, honey, muddled cucumbers and a light dash of house chai bitters (right). [Recipe]

A billiard room off the second floor.

A bay window nook is a place of privacy off the billiards room; be sure to look up, where the bar hoards plenty filagreed design details (left). A classic Whiskey Sour (right). [Recipe]

A Mint Julep flaunts the bar’s new crushed and shaved ice capabilities—right in time for summer. [Recipe]

Barrelhouse Flat specializes in not having to specialize. The second floor bar is place to head for the traditional craft cocktail bar treatment with live jazz and the self-same relaxed vibe.

The first floor bar warmly welcomes all. If a cocktail isn’t to your fancy, a rotating tap has a choice of 12 Midwestern beers, from Chicago’s own Half Acre Pony Pils to a Surly Furious from Minnesota (left). That’s Probably Him, a gin concoction by Jimmy Hibbard starring Cocchi Rosa and apricot brandy (right). [Recipe]

The most popular drink on the menu and the original cocktail itself, an Old-Fashioned, served with specialty block ice courtesy of JustIce, a Chicago-based globe, block and custom-shaped ice company. [Recipe]

Chicago is a city that is no stranger to acclaimed craft cocktail bars of the speakeasy-revival style, and one that has more than its fair share of casual drinking joints. Less frequently do you find the two in one, which is exactly what Stephen Cole set out to offer when he left The Violet Hour to open Barrelhouse Flat. A sort of sleeves-rolled-up answer to The Violet Hour’s cuff-linked approach, Barrelhouse Flat has become something of a sandbar in the disparate sea of Chicago’s drinking scene.

The staples of a local watering hole are all present and accounted for—Miller High Life on draft, a friendly smile with your vodka-soda—but the staff doesn’t lack craft credentials either, something they prove time and again with a bimonthly rotation of house cocktails that are creative without being overwrought.

With two floors of space, Cole and his team, led by general manager James Wright, specialize in not having to specialize. Looking for the Blackhawks game on TV, music you vaguely recognize and well-priced drinks you can buy in rounds? Step right through the front door. Hoping instead for a traditional, speakeasy-style experience—live jazz included? Head straight to the stairs in the back, and up to the second floor. Barrelhouse Flat offers more than one experience, which stands as something of a symbol for that very Chicago tension between a laid-back, game-and-a-beer Midwest sensibility and the devotion to harder and faster city life. At its core, it’s a bar for the city’s most worldly drinking ambitions, and one that won’t mind when you order High Life instead. —Shea Corrigan 

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