The Berkshire Room: A No-Nonsense Bar With an All-Business Bartender

By Sarah Freeman  |  June 28, 2013

There’s something special happening in the back of the Acme Hotel, and it has nothing to do with complimentary room service. It’s The Berkshire Room, an elegant cocktail bar helmed by mixologist Benjamin Schiller. Schiller developed quite the reputation after managing the bars at Girl & The Goat, Boka and In Fine Spirits. Earlier this year, he joined The Fifty/50 Restaurant Group. His first project was to overhaul the cocktail menu at Homestead, the urban farm/restaurant on the roof of Roots Handmade Pizza. Then he turned his attention to The Berkshire Room.

Just past the hotel’s dark entryway with a flickering “No Vacancy” sign, you'll find a set of glass doors. Passing through said doors is like passing though a portal. The spacious white sanctuary has an arched ceiling and marble floor. The bar is in the back, bookended by alcoves that provide most of the seating. The red leather alcove doubles as a whiskey library while the green one is filled with crushed velvet booths.

Then you have Schiller, who found his stride with a cocktail menu divided into house cocktails, barrel-finished and dealer’s choice. But that’s not all, since the bar is located in the hotel; Schiller thought it was important that he cater to the local cocktail snobs as well as international travelers. “If you want a vodka soda – absolutely. If you want to geek out in the dealer’s choice section, or try a cocktail aged in a port barrel, or if you want a cocktail with pipe tobacco – absolutely. That’s what I wanted to create.”

His cocktails offer something for everyone, from a vodka cocktail called In Bloom (fruit syrup, hyacinth water and tangerine bitters) to the 5 In/5 Out (rye, mezcal, amaro and house bitters). The classics come into play with the barrel-finished cocktails. Large batches of Manhattans spent time in a Chimney Rocks wine barrel while the Negroni lived inside a Pappy Van Winkle whiskey barrel. “What we tried to do here is focus on the flavor, not the age,” Schiller said. “All our cocktails are at least aged in one barrel and finished in another barrel and we list that barrel.”

For those who do not find something they like on the menu, they can order a Dealer’s Choice drink. The guest picks a spirit (Old Tom gin, sotol, shochu, blended scotch, etc.) a flavor profile (fruity, spicy, smoky, etc.) and a type of glassware (collins, rocks, coupe, julep or flute). Then, Schiller creates the cocktail. Really, you can ask for anything, but don’t get upset if he makes you the exact drink you order and it tastes like the kitchen sink.

“Certain things are just going to go together, like ham and eggs, and certain things are going to be a heavy contrast, but what I like a lot of people don’t like and vice versa,” Schiller says. “If you have a heavy flavor like aquavit and you want to do something with it that’s not going to work, like a delicate crème de violette, I’m going to give it to you. I may not like it, but if you like it, I did my job. My only job here is to make my guests happy and to keep them coming back, not to feed my ego or impress other bartenders.”

Most importantly, The Berkshire Room is an accommodating bar, where both hotel guests and locals can get a quality cocktail made to their liking. Each bartender will be equipped with a notepad to mark any requests the bar cannot fulfill, and remedy the liquor collection accordingly. “What I always thought was missing in the whole craft cocktail scene,” Schiller says, “was a place where if you just wanted your go-to drink and your go-to beer, it will be served with the same attention as if you ordered some progressive cocktail that not even the bartenders had heard of.” Here's a look at some of the drinks and dishes to be found at The Berkshire Room.

15 E. Ohio St.; 312-894-0945

  • Antique

    Rum, aperitifs, Spikenard and Himalayan salt

  • in Bloom

    Vodka, seasonal fruit syrup, hyacinth water and tangerine bitters

  • Caviar

    Horseradish-potato espuma, buckwheat blinis, Champagne, red onion marmalade, dill creme fraiche, sauce gribiche and chives

  • Bison Tartare

    Caper relish, egg jam and crostini