James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

Gulp Quickly and Keep Glad‑handing

Gulp Quickly and Keep Glad‑handing

Negronis in Chicago

Recently, Mayor Rahm Emanuel greeted a lightly-buzzing audience seated within the Ardis Krainik Theatre, home of the Lyric Opera, with a joke.

“Chicago is known for our cuisine, and the way we count ballots, so you might as well all go home: we won,” he said, acknowledging the city’s long, rich history of ethically-suspect-to-utterly-corrupt politics and politicians. “We vote early, and we vote often.”

The occasion was the James Beard Awards, an event that is many things to many people. Primarily intended to honor the achievements of American hospitality professionals, the ceremony and its dozens of satellite parties are also an increasingly elaborate series of opportunities to network, showboat, poach talent, peacock, gossip, and document it all, while eating bite-sized portions of things like abalone and avocado toast, wild squirrel sausages, and cookies made with foie gras. Naturally, the whole thing is awash in free booze, gladly handed to you by a friendly, smiling brand rep.

The Ardis Krainik Theatre is a stunning and well-preserved Art Deco masterpiece, built in 1929, but the crowded press room is little more than a hallway nook off the third-floor mezzanine stuffed with a handful of banquets and tables. It also contains the best seats in the house. Large television screens gave everyone unobstructed views of the proceedings, the winners were paraded through for up-close interviews and photos, and, most crucially, two (sponsored) bars kept the working journalists and assorted hangers-on in a steady supply of sparkling wine and gin-based cocktails, including a sweet Negroni variation that contained Lillet but no ice, the better to gulp it quickly and get back to the glad-handing.

Up Next

Bread and Circuses in Believeland

Featured City Guides