Class is in session

Back in the 1970s, my mom proudly got a job as a bartender at a time when women rarely took on that role. So, although I hardly consider myself a cocktail connoisseur, I like to think there are at least a few drops of mixology in my blood, which is why my interest was piqued when I was invited to a cocktail class at Filini, the contemporary Italian restaurant and bar within Chicago’s Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel.

Now in its second year, the half-hour class is offered free of charge on Tuesday evenings and is limited to 15 guests, to allow for maximum personal interaction with the instructors.

The evening I attended we concocted an herbaceous reinterpretation of the Manhattan called Carroll Gardens, named after the Brooklyn, New York, neighborhood where the cocktail originated just a few years ago. Armed with professional mixology equipment and ingredients and instructions attractively assembled, my fellow students and I got to work with hands-on help from Filini Head Bartender Roger Bailey and Chef de Restaurant William Johnson, who offered friendly pointers on everything from stirring technique to rubbing the rim of the glass with lemon peel.

The cocktail was straight liquor — rye whiskey, maraschino liqueur and Italian vermouth, to name just a few elements (see below for the full recipe) — and quite honestly, I didn’t expect it to suit my tastes. However, when I took a sip, I found the taste surprisingly smooth.

“We try to make these things approachable for everybody,” Bailey told me.

Both Bailey and Johnson were very knowledgeable, enthusiastic and easy to talk to, and the class seems to be yielding some good results even with largely word-of-mouth marketing. The main goal, according to Bailey, is attracting more locals to the restaurant, and I sat with a couple gentlemen who had attended several classes already.

“We want to get exposure and be seen not just as a hotel lounge, but as a place in the neighborhood, where there are not a lot of options,” Bailey said.

The cocktail class syllabus is set through November, and in December, Filini is planning a competition for randomly selected participants to craft their own libations for a chance to win a gift certificate and have their creation added to the January 2014 bar menu.

Engaging guests and locals with memorable experiences is becoming the norm in hotel F&B, but this is a creative, heartfelt twist on that concept — and to that, I say, “Cheers!”

Carroll Gardens

2 oz Straight rye whiskey

1/2 oz Averna Amaro

1/8 oz Luxardo maraschino liqueur

1/2 oz Carpano Punt E Mes

Stir ingredients over ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.