Few white-tablecloth restaurants double as cocktail destinations — or local hangouts. Vie, a Michelin-starred institution in Western Springs, Ill., does both.
Just ask Julius White, Vie’s bar manager and assistant general manager. He has worked alongside Paul Virant, the James Beard Award-nominated chef at Vie, for nearly three years. The restaurant regularly appears on best of Chicago rankings and, interestingly, Vie lists its cocktail menu, not the wine list, on its website.
“It’s been very rewarding for me and my team to see people really take to cocktail culture in our area,” White says. While most fine dining restaurants focus primarily on wine, White notices more guests are coming in to drink cocktails at the bar, in the lounge area, or at their tables before transitioning to wine.
“Now they come to us and say, ‘Oh, what are you working on?’ or ‘What’s new and exciting?’ We’re fortunate, that doesn’t happen everywhere,” White tells VinePair. “Vie has always had an incredibly strong bar program, so I’m just very happy to be able to continue that.”
VinePair caught up with Vie on a snowy weekday to ask him our seven questions. Here, he divulges his intentions for a very special bottle of chartreuse, and his truly terrifying first encounter with Chicago’s own Jeppson’s Malort.
1. What’s your desert-island drink?
Given that I’m going to be trapped on an island and it will be hot, I would like for someone to deliver me a whole case of Château Sainte Eulalie Minervois Rosé. Whatever the current vintage is when you throw me on that island.
And then I’ll figure out what to do the second day.
2. What’s the first drink you bought when you turned 21?
I can’t exactly remember the first drink that I bought, but I can tell you the first drink that was bought for me. One of my college teammates and I had the same birthday, so we both got to run into the bar at midnight. Some of the older guys from the team were already there, waiting for us, and they had five shots lined up for each of us.
I took the first one, and I thought, “Oh cool. Jameson Irish whiskey.” I loved Jameson even then. So we’re going down, cheersing, and toasting… And I get to the fourth one, throw it back, and I was met with this wildly bitter, herbaceous, grapefruit pith, at the time total disaster to my palate. That was my first taste of the old Chicago favorite, Jeppson’s Malort. They hid it in a row of five shots… Malort and I since then have become very good friends, but I will never forget that first experience. That’s how we met.
3. FMK three cocktails: Negroni, Margarita, Manhattan?
F the Manhattan. There’s just always a place for it in my life. I’ll marry the Negroni because bittersweet balance is fortified by the gin; so, you know, she’s a little sweet, she’ll give you a hard time when necessary, but she’s always got your back. And you can kill the Margarita, because I don’t want it. Ever.
4. You’re on death row. What’s your final drink?
Grand Marnier 100 year anniversary. Just a nice, smooth snifter of that. I can remember having one the night after I got married, sitting with my best friend at the bar at Bouchon in Las Vegas, talking through life and everything that was to come. I can remember having one shortly after that, too, at the end of our honeymoon dinner at Le Bernardin in New York. It’s always been a very special-occasion sipper for me. So I guess, if I gotta go, I’ll take one more of those with me.
5. You can only drink at one bar for the rest of your life. What is it?
A small bar out in the northwest suburbs of Chicago called D.C. Cobb’s out in Woodstock, Ill. I moved out there in the middle of college and then proceeded to live there the next seven years or so, and I spent the majority of my time standing in the far corner of that bar with my best friend. We spent so much time there he eventually bought the place. He still owns it to this day. It’s where I like to think I grew up (or at least tried).
6. What’s the best and worst bottle on your shelf?
I’ll just say this: As a general rule, I’m not a huge fan of anise flavor profiles. Not that they’re not well-crafted products, but, well, those are very capable of collecting dust on any shelf that I have.
The best? I love chartreuse. On my home bar, I have a bottle that was given to me by co-workers of mine just prior to my son being born. I moved it into a decanter and I’m just letting it sit there. In an ideal world, I’ll get to pour that for him for his first drink.
7. What cocktail will you never order again?
It’s not so much a cocktail as an ingredient. A couple of years ago, I was at an establishment and I saw a cocktail with seaweed, and I was like, “Man, that sounds interesting, I’ll have it.” When it hit the table, I took my first sip, and I could see the bar staff able to see me… And so I kind of nodded, but I was actually like, “Oh. I’m not going to be able to do this” in my head. So I took about two more minutes. Then I picked the drink up, turned my back toward the bar, and took the whole thing down at once. That would have been it for seaweed as an ingredient in cocktails, until this past Monday. I was in New York at Dead Rabbit and I had a cocktail called Hail to the Chief that, amongst other savory items, had seaweed incorporated into it. It was maybe the best drink I’ve had in a considerable amount of time. I’ve been changed!
Other than that, well, anything with anise in it.