Apogee’s cocktails are made for Instagram | Bar Review | Chicago Reader

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Apogee’s cocktails are made for Instagram

At the Dana Hotel’s luxe rooftop bar, Benjamin Schiller’s drinks are garnished with everything from edible butterflies to hard candy and served in vessels such as a snail shell and a bong.

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The first half of the menu at Apogee, the Dana Hotel's luxe rooftop bar, looks more like a high-end magazine than a drinks list. Printed on glossy paper, it shows strikingly beautiful cocktails set against a black backdrop that highlights the drinks' myriad colors. Knowing what the options look like can be useful for ordering, but Apogee approaches aesthetic gratification as an end in itself.

Located 26 stories up, the lounge provides dizzying views of the streets below (the last occupant was called Vertigo) and often a peek into the windows of the surrounding high-rise apartments. Outside, long couches atop artificial turf are surrounded by planters with neatly trimmed bushes, giving the impression of an immaculately maintained rooftop garden; indoors, marble and gold accents dominate.

The atmosphere comes at a price: cocktails range from $13 to $18 for an individual serving and climb steeply from there; the largest serves six to eight people and costs $400. Glasses of wine start at $12, bottles around $50. You can get a Corona Light for $6 or a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 25-year-old bourbon for $15,000. Not everything on the bottle-service list is quite so extravagant, but the cheapest option—Tito's vodka—will still run you $300.

COURTESY APOGEE
  • Courtesy Apogee
COURTESY APOGEE
  • Courtesy Apogee

The Fifty/50 Restaurant Group is responsible for the bar's renovation, and the group's beverage director, Benjamin Schiller (the Berkshire Room, the Sixth), created the drinks menu. From Schiller's other bars, a couple of staid-looking bourbon-based classics (the Weston and the Old Money) show up here as well, but the rest appear ready to enter a beauty contest. One is topped with cotton candy and basil powder, another with an edible butterfly; serving vessels include a bong, a huge snail shell, and a fish-shaped pitcher. They seem to dare you not to photograph them, especially the large-format cocktails, Apogee's specialty.

Mr. Nice Guy; Fibonacci - COURTESY APOGEE
  • Courtesy Apogee
  • Mr. Nice Guy; Fibonacci

Their frilly appearance doesn't mean the drinks lack substance. The 1-Up, served in a vessel that resembles a toadstool and garnished with pastel-colored candy, combines gin, chartreuse, absinthe, and oregano over crushed ice for an appealingly herbal concoction. Much like the Sixth's ever-popular Silly Rabbit, the Sancerre involves fruit-flavored ice cubes—in this case grapefruit, lemongrass, and pear—with a little beaker of liquid you pour over the top. Gin is mixed with an aperitif (Aperol when I visited), and on first sip the drink is pleasant but unremarkable. As the ice cubes melt it becomes more interesting, with the fruit and lemongrass becoming more apparent, but also sweeter.

Sancerre - COURTESY APOGEE
  • Courtesy Apogee
  • Sancerre

Then there's the Deep End, which looks like it was vomited up by a unicorn. Tequila, grapefruit, lime, and watermelon juice are served over crushed ice and topped with blue curacao. For the first few sips, granules of sea salt cold-smoked over chardonnay wine barrels added a welcome smokiness and a salinity that balanced out the drink's sweetness, but the overall flavor was thin from the beginning and quickly became watery as the ice melted. Stirring in the curacao just made things worse. Fortunately we fared better with the Fifth Char, a whiskey and demerara rum cocktail also served over crushed ice that incorporates a spiced falernum syrup. Aside from the burnt marshmallow it's garnished with, the drink is pretty dry.

There's a certain expectation for rooftop bars: a fancy space, nice views, beautiful people. Apogee not only checks all the boxes, it raises the stakes when it comes to spectacular-looking cocktails. Some even look as good as they taste. As for the ones that don't—well, your Instagram followers never need to know.   v

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