The Sofitel Water Tower hotel, in downtown Chicago, is fraught with concept, from its white glass exterior, tapering off into the sky like a dollop of whipped cream, to its modern French decor. But the innovation reaches new heights at the hotel's bar, named Le Bar, where I recently saw something for the first time: a "his 'n hers" cocktail list.
First of all, the cocktail menu is labeled "Liquid Suggestions," which, if dysentery ever writes its memoirs, would be a worthwhile title. The menu divides cocktails into "His" ("Willful Beverages both Handsome and Refined") and "Hers" ("Downright Gorgeous Cocktails demonstrating both Elegance and Complexity")—rampant and random capitalization theirs. "Of course," it reads, "we encourage you to be less than shy about joining the other team if something catches your eye." (Wonderful advice, incidentally, for kids heading off to their first year of college.) At Le Bar, it's easier said than done: A man in the mood for bourbon with raspberry vodka, sweet vermouth, and bitters will have to sidle up to the bar, straighten his tie, and summon his manliest baritone to ask for the "Raspberry Womanhattan." More likely, as occurred in my party the other night, he'll just recruit a woman to do the ordering for him while he hides behind her, perusing the single-malts.
Some of the gender attributions make intuitive sense: the "Dark and Stormy"—spicy ginger with rum, lime juice and soda-sounds like it could put some 1970's pimp hair on your chest. But then again, so could a sidecar, which they make into a lady-drink with a Nora Roberts-style description: "Courvoisier gently kissed by notes of Cointreau, freshly squeezed lemon, and orange juices." Well, if that doesn't lace up your teddy, I don't know what will.
For all the creative writing, the menu hints that the cocktail gender divide is more than just a silly thematic conceit: "We enjoy offering libations crafted specifically with men's and women's individual palates in mind," it reads, suggesting that men and women experience flavors so differently that it's necessary to tailor a cocktail list to suit each gender. It's as if I would sip a mint julep (a man-drink on the list), do a spit-take and say, "Is this made with Old Spice? Sweet Mary, someone get me a tic-tac!" In reality, the last place anyone's likely to be displeased with a drink is Le Bar, where fresh juices and herbs, careful bartenders, and well-selected liquors make for dynamite drinks, no matter how they're described or whom they target. But as annoying as a his 'n hers" cocktail menu may be, it definitely beats "his 'n hers" pajamas, or worse. (Yes, Plug 'n Socket costume, I'm looking at you.)