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Meet Chicago’s Cocktail Connoisseur

See how Wade McElroy is reinventing Chicago’s bar scene one hot spot at a time

Seven years ago, Wade McElroy made a career-defining leap. The Arizona native, who was working at The Dutch in SoHo, was visiting friends in Chicago when he took note of the Windy City’s fledgling cocktail scene. “I saw an opportunity to join a young and super-supportive hospitality community,” says the 33-year-old. “I also knew I could eventually leverage my experience in New York to open my own place.” Today, one mega-successful hospitality group and three (soon-to-be four) neighborhood hot spots later, it’s clear—Chicago was indeed calling his name.

With his business partner, Jeff Donahue, McElroy has unlocked the formula for the consummate corner bar. The key, he says, is unpretentiousness. Each spot—from Estereo’s cheery Latin American soundtrack to the come-as-you-are backyard spaces at Sportsman’s Club and Ludlow Liquors—
reflects McElroy’s jovial and breezy position.

Originality is the other ingredient in McElroy and Donahue’s anything-but-prototypical concepts. “We try to practice daily creativity,” he says, highlighting Sportsman’s Club’s cocktail offerings. The four-item roster is crafted nightly and influenced by anything from current events to weather. Estereo, an ode to the music and spirits of Latin America and the Caribbean, is a playful departure from Logan Square’s many cocktail destinations. With Ludlow Liquors, the duo’s first destination in the city, where stirred cocktails are poured by the ounce, the two men have transformed a nondescript Avondale corner.

This winter, the team debuts its much-anticipated second Logan Square project, Young American—a contemporary take on a tavern with an emphasis on great wines, seasonal cocktails from newly minted beverage director Julia McKinley (Lost Lake, Milk Room), and food with a healthy bent. After that for McElroy: a wintertime escape to Portugal. “Once we’re nice and settled into the opening, I guess I can give myself a little break,” he says.

Main image credit: Steven Sampang