Drink This Now: the Handshake Drug at The Campground

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The Handshake Drug at The Campground. // Photo by April Fleming

Offering outdoor “cabins,” a holiday market, and a parking lot bar with genuine appeal, Chris Ciesel and Cristin Llewellyn demonstrated that they were among the most creative restaurateurs throughout the long COVID-related restaurant closures of 2020 and 2021. 

These offerings kept guests coming despite abbreviated hours and some limited availability, and it wasn’t until July that the restaurant’s dining room actually reopened. We’re appreciative of that work, recognizing that alternative programming is no small thing. 

We’re pretty excited though that they have now (cautiously) stepped back into full service, because it’s in these cozy confines that owner Chris Ciesel’s cocktails—and their presentations—shine as much as they deserve to. One standout from the Campground’s now fully open menu is the Handshake Drug, a bright gin-based drink ideal for hot summer days. The drink is also noticeable for its fruit-forwardness, which Ciesel doesn’t typically tend towards. 

The cocktail is in a lot of ways a tribute to Chicago, Ciesel’s hometown. It starts with two Chicago specialties: Koval barreled gin and the aromatic spirit Leatherbee Besk (a far more tolerable aromatic spirit than it’s cousin, Malört), which Ciesel macerates with fresh pineapple. 

To the uncreative mind, this combination seems like it would repel even insects, but it really does work. To that, he adds the poblano-tinted Ancho Reyes Verde, pineapple honey, lemon, and orange cream citrate. It’s topped with chipped ice, which Ciesel makes right at the bar for each drink. Bringing the Chicago theme full circle, the cocktail is named after a song by Wilco, one of Chicago’s best-known bands. 

While Ciesel doesn’t favor fruity drinks, this cocktail shows he should probably just make more of them. It’s fresh and tart, but also floral and complex. It also looks similar to a tequila sunrise but comes without the sickly sweetness or hangover. The Handshake Drug is a great way to help take in the space again, or maybe enjoy it for the first time.

Categories: Food & Drink