The Best Rum Bar in America Is in Chicago
The Bamboo Room is a personalized tour of rum’s past and future
As a rule — to which there are exceptions, of course — the modern cocktail bar is a mess.
Drinks that should require presentation, explanation and nuance (not to mention a little friendly banter) are foisted forth in seconds, particularly on crowded weekends. Novice drinkers abound, forward-thinking tipplers can’t get a seat, and nobody’s happy with the inflated prices.
But nestled between the sports bars, blues clubs and Irish pubs that dot Chicago’s River North is Three Dots and a Dash, a creative tiki bar that recently found a way to adjust to its own (deserved) popularity.
Hidden on the premises, you’ll find a second, smaller and quieter bar called the The Bamboo Room, where the Three Dots team crafts cocktails and pours spirits you won’t find in the main room (or, really, anywhere else). And they’ll throw in what amounts to a one-on-one TED Talk on rum while you’re there.
To enter the 22-seat speakeasy, you’ll need to make a separate reservation, book about two hours of time and put down a modest deposit. The extra effort is worth it: headed up by Three Dots beverage director Kevin Beary, Bamboo is the most progressive and refined take on rum and rum-based cocktails that we’ve found in the United States.
“The goal of The Bamboo Room is to have an intimate space where we can experiment and push the boundaries of tiki and rum cocktails,” Beary tells InsideHook. “And the small size of the concept allows us to spend dedicated time with each guest, exploring their preferences and tailoring cocktails and spirits specifically to their palates.”
If you do the guided tasting (a la carte bar seating/ordering is also available), Beary and his team will start by asking you a series of questions: How often do you drink tiki drinks? Are you a fan of rum? Do you like stronger or more tropical drinks? Do you prefer prefer bitter or sweet flavors? Etc. From there, the team will customize 3-4 courses of cocktails within or outside of the discussed parameters, depending on how adventurous you’re feeling. They’ll then use feedback from each course to inform your followup cocktails.
These small, curated cocktail experiences are a welcome trend (or at least a return to form), and something you can also find in Chicago speakeasies like kumiko, The Aviary offshoot The Office, or Milk Room at the Chicago Athletic Association hotel.
As a side note, The Bamboo Room doesn’t needlessly up their prices — you’ll be getting cocktails prepared in unique and proprietary ways with near impossible-to-find rums for around $10-$18, or about $26-$28 in cocktails made for two.
The room’s signature drinks include a daiquiri poured into a coupe filled with ice made from fresh pineapple juice and hand cranked using a kakigori ice shaver (it’s your go-to Instagram pic). You can also choose a daiquiri crafted from one of four house rum blends created by Beary. The Disco, for example, features overproof white rum, funky rhum agricole blanc and cask-strength cachaca.
Also available: an array of stirred drinks, classic rum cocktail recipes inspired by Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic’s (Mai Tais, Zombies, the awesome Kona Coffee Grog — all in appropriately awesome tiki mugs and drinkware), and up to five different “modern” takes on rum drinks — including force-carbonated cocktails, as well as a clarified banana punch that somehow turned our least-favorite and an often overpowering cocktail ingredient (banana) into a nuanced, beautiful sipper.
As well, you’ll be to test out rums exclusive to the Bamboo Room or that are pretty much impossible to find in Chicago (or even the U.S.) — many sourced by Beary during his numerous rum field trips around the globe. Those bottles might include a 19 year-old cask strength John Dore 1 from fermented molasses bottles via St. Lucia Distillers, all Rhum JM single vintages from 1997-2003 and independent bottlings of Hampden Estate, Monymusk and Diamond Guyana.
If those names mean nothing to you … well, hey, just ask Beary about ‘em. You’ve got a boozy two-hour window and his undivided attention.
The Bamboo Room is located within Three Dots and a Dash at 435 N. Clark St. The bar is open Thu-Fri from 4pm–midnight and Sat-Sun from 2pm–midnight. Guided tastings require a $50 deposit per person and bar seating requires a $35 deposit, all of which is applied toward your final bill. You can make a reservation online here.