The Pink Squirrel: Recovering Midwestern Cocktail Culture

Just over a month ago, The Pink Squirrel charmed the public with “Grandpa’s favorite cocktails and unlimited bowling”. Now that they’ve had a minute to breathe, we rolled out some questions of our own.

Owner and Chicago bar buff Dustin Drankiewicz gave us some answers.

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Founder, Dustin Drankiewicz. All Photos Courtesy/Felicia Saade and The Pink Squirrel

How did one Wisconsin-born drink inspire the concept for this lounge?

The Pink Squirrel is a cocktail served at my favorite bar, Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge, a Milwaukee staple since the late 30’s. I grew up in Northern Wisconsin so that influenced my love and appreciation for Midwestern cocktail culture and inspired the concept for this bar. It also happens to be the first cocktail I ever had.

What’s in a Pink Squirrel?

Crème de cacao, crème de noyaux, vanilla ice cream and whipped cream.

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The drink that started it all.

The “supper club” trademark elicits visions of prime steak, fish fries, and creamed everything. Is food in the cards for this venture?

Right now we’ve got a turkey club with chips and relish on the menu, but nothing beyond that. The Pink Squirrel focuses more on the supper club bar classics and traditional entertainment, as opposed to the food.

Speaking of, can you walk us through some of your drink offerings?

The most notable cocktails would be the supper club classics like the Grasshopper, the Harvey Wallbanger, Brandy Alexander and the drink that inspired the space, The Pink Squirrel. We’ve also got drinks like the Margarita, Rusty Nail, Blue Hawaiian and more. For non-alcoholic options, we’ve got milkshakes and ice cream.

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A menagerie of throwbacks.

What about the general atmosphere of The Pink Squirrel?

It’s comfortable and cozy.  Everything from the music, drinks, and amusement in the space are about that nostalgic experience. This space is setting the pace for Midwest Cocktail culture, something that is overlooked and not truly appreciated in the cocktail bar world. We are so used to hearing LA this or New York that, but the Midwest is responsible for some of the best bars in the world and a genuinely hospitable environment that’s not focused on what they’re putting in the glasses, but the experience the guest is having. I just wanted to create a fun, comfortable space that represents the Midwest to the fullest.

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Grab a stool, and stay a while.

We love bowling. How did you select that as the entertainment slice of your Midwestern homage? 

I spent a big part of my childhood in bars and bowling alleys like Holler House, Bob-E-Lanes and Koz’s Mini Bowling. My old man was even a professional bowler for a living. Eventually, I wanted to create my own brand that was inviting for the neighborhood crowd, focusing on my favorite parts of Midwestern bar culture.

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You’re up. Book a lane here.

Why 2414 N Milwaukee Ave? 

Convenience. I opened my first bar, Deadbolt, in February 2017 and it happens to be right next door. Not to mention Logan Square is home to some great bars and Milwaukee Ave is pretty much the hub of it all.

We know you’re still pretty fresh, but can you comment on how the neighborhood (and public) is responding to your presence?

I don’t really read reviews or online feedback because I don’t think it’s there to be constructive or honest. What I do pay attention to and spend time doing is talking to as many people as possible that show genuine interest in what we’re doing on a nightly basis. I’ll say that a rather large majority of people that walk through the door are really into what we are doing. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, but we are trying to keep it moving in the right direction.

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Shake, shake, shake.

Highest score so far at the neon-lit lanes?

Highest I’ve seen has been a 168. It’s not as easy as it looks.

Anything else you think visitors should know about the lounge?

We are putting a lot of time, energy and creativity into showcasing what Midwest Cocktail culture has to offer. This is a true representation of what our beverage history stemmed from here in the Midwest. Creatively we are showcasing a nostalgic/throwback way of imbibing to a modern palate and setting. It’s Chicago, it’s a huge market. These bars and beverage offerings were scaled for “small town” and over time got lost. These cocktails and supper club classics withstood the test of time for a reason, it’s their time to shine. I’m gonna do that single-handedly.

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