Chicago isn’t exactly known for balmy weather year round, but when Sergio Serna takes his place behind the bar at the Drawing Room, he makes sure his drinks evoke sultry Caribbean evenings and beachside relaxation.
“I really love presenting my heritage to people,” says Serna, who’s a proud Mexican American. “Latin flavors aren’t really represented well on the cocktail scene and I’m all about showing off what’s great about our culture outside the typical margarita.”
It’s a mission Serna considers his life’s passion. He found his way onto the culinary scene when, as finance major at the University of Illinois-Chicago, he couldn’t see himself crunching numbers behind a desk any longer and landed a position as a server and bartender at a local Mexican joint. While working at Chicago eatery Del Toro, Serna got a glimpse of the creative energy that the head mixologist poured into his cocktails and since then he says, he hasn’t looked back.
“At first I couldn’t believe you could really pour some much effort in to cocktails, with these weird syrups and purees,” recalls Serna. “But there’s something so special about creating an extraordinary experience within a glass, in one drink that I find really exciting.”
Fast forward a few years later and Serna, along with buddy Daniel De Oliveira, has helped bring Latino flavors to the forefront of Chicago’s blossoming cocktail scene. Serna – who loves mixing up drinks with ingredients as varied as chipotle, chiles del arbol, papaya and heirloom tomatoes – prides himself on creating multi-dimensional drinks with layers of culture invoked in each sip. For his Caribbean Queen cocktail (“a really happy, satisfying drink,” Serna says), he combines rum, citrus liqueur, mango puree, lime and savory chocolate bitters for a drink that acts as an instant escape, regardless of your mood or the weather outside.
“All it takes is a balance of the right flavors,” says Serna. “It’s that challenge that keeps me doing what I love.”
1.5 oz Mount Gay Rum Eclipse
0.75 oz Cointreau
0.75 oz mango puree
0.75 oz lime juice
0.25 oz simple syrup
dash of Bitter Truth celery bitters
One egg white
Garnish:Bittermens xocolatl mole bitters and one mint spring
Preparation: Combine first 7 ingredients in a shaker. Shake to combine, add ice and shake for about ten seconds. Double strain into a rocks glass (no ice) that has been rimmed with salt and chilli powder. Garnish with Bittermens xocolatl mole bitters and a mint spring. Makes one drink.