By Kristy Wilson
You may have noticed a recent theme to some of my articles: “Best and Most Unique Desserts in Champaign-Urbana,” “Hidden Food Gems in Champaign-Urbana,” “Best Values When Dining with Kids in Champaign-Urbana,” etc. The theme: FOOD!
We thought it was time to bring you a list of drinks (adult beverages) to go along with your food options. While I felt somewhat inadequate about writing this article due to my lack of knowledge, I did a little “market research,” asked a few friends and — voila — here you have it!
Disclaimer: Yes, I have to do it. This list is in no way a complete list of all the amazing cocktails that are offered in Champaign-Urbana. This list is made of only local bars/eateries and not larger chain restaurants. With so many new restaurants opening in Champaign-Urbana, I know that there are many more that could be added! This mama of two gets very little time to go out and do comprehensive “market research” of this sort. However, this is a starting off point of sorts if you would like a new scene and new drink to try. Please note that this is a list of cocktails only.
1. Big Grove: The Campfire. This cocktail features maple-sage syrup. And you thought maple syrup was just for pancakes, think again! The combo of syrup, lemon juice and fresh sage leaves paired with rum make this a unique taste that you’ll come back for.
2. Black Dog Smoke & Ale House: Rye Old Fashioned. I am not an Old Fashioned drinker but I have been informed that Black Dog in Urbana has “the best old fashioned in town.” So, if you are in Urbana and Old Fashioneds are your drink of choice, then check out Black Dog. They have certainly earned my vote for their amazing food!
3. Destihl: Basil Bulleit. This is such a refreshing drink and according to one of the bartenders this drink is one of the top-selling cocktails at Desthil. The combination of bourbon, simple syrup, lemon juice, fresh basil, and the floater of cab sav make this unique. This drink would be great anytime, but especially sitting in the outdoor area on a nice summer day. (Destihl closed in April 2020.)
4. Fat City Bar and Grill: Red Hot Lover. Recently, I had on an episode of CI Living while cooking dinner. It was just before Valentine’s Day and they were doing a special. I looked up to see none other than our Mom-in-Chief, Laura Bleill, talking about the importance of creating time for date nights in the busy family schedule. Just after that one of the bartenders talked about this drink. This drink was a blend of vodka, peach schnapps, O.J., strawberry, and grenadine. Yum! Please note that this was part of their special Valentine’s Day menu, so you likely won’t see it on the menu now. However, they said it was a favorite and assured the viewers that if you come in and ask for it they will deliver.
5. Miga: Hana. I think I mentioned in another piece that I haven’t been to Miga yet. However, many friends rave about everything that is Miga: the appetizers, entrees, desserts and drinks. A top favorite is the Hana. The combination of muddled strawberry and cucumber along with the lemon zest give it a light and fresh taste.
6. Sun Singer Wine and Spirits: Sangria. I realize that I have mentioned this before, but it truly is a favorite for many. I sit on a local board of directors that often meets here and it is without doubt the most ordered drink by all the members.
7. V. Picasso: Bloody Mary. I am not a huge Bloody Mary fan, but friends have said that V Picasso’s blend of tomatoes and avocado provides a unique, unmatched flavor. Once you order your Bloody Mary there are a handful of “extras” that you can add as well (a chicken wing, chorizo stuffed olives, chili vodka, fried shrimp, etc.).
8. Watson’s Shack and Rail: This new-to-the-scene restaurant features many unique drinks. Probably most noteworthy is the slushy machine geared toward adults. They feature two yummy “adult slushies.” Just be mindful of the brain freeze!
- σ Kentucky Slush: orange juice, peach sweet tea, bourbon, lemonade, and Sprite.
- σ Gorky Park Mule: ginger beer, vodka, lime juice and lime zest.
9. The Neighbors at Ice House: Birthday Cake Martini. If you want to try something a little off the beaten path of downtown Champaign, then check out this place. Owner Diane Bennett will make you her famous Birthday Cake Martini, but don’t ask what’s in it; it is top secret! Not even her lovely daughter who bartended for her knows the recipe.
10. Wedge: Pumpkin Margarita. And you thought the perfect combination of an Illinois fall and a margarita on the beach wasn’t possible. Think again! This drink includes Wedge’s house-made pumpkin puree.
11. Seven Saints: I’m told that there isn’t a particular drink to be had here, but rather a particular person that you should see. Her name is Ann. She is the manager and a “true mixologist” according to a friend. This friend tells me that if you have a hankering for a certain flavor and you tell Ann about it that she will whip you up a drink that “you would never know has alcohol in it.” If you are feeling adventurous, this might be a fun route to take for you next night out!
Cocktails recommended by our Readers:
“The flaming Irish coffee at Dublin O’Neils is the perfect winter drink, and the fact that they set it on fire makes it that much more fun.”
“Snickers martini at Crane Alley is one of my faves.”
Again, I know that there are more that I am forgetting or that I haven’t yet tried. What would you add?
Kristy Wilson considers herself a “townie” having lived in the community for more than 26 years. She grew up in Unit 4 schools and attended the University of Illinois. Kristy is passionate about her professional work as a social worker. In her spare time she enjoys food! In particular she loves to try new recipes and sample new dishes at local eateries.