Ward Eight | Bar review
An Evanston cocktail bar does something new: It leaves pretense behind.
Compare the house rules at Ward Eight to those at, say, the Violet Hour, and what becomes clear is that Ward has left a lot of the nonsense of the current cocktail movement behind. This is a good thing. Where Ward’s forebears still write shaming rules (“No light beer. No Grey Goose.”) and dictate that bartenders wear vests, Ward bartenders have no dress code, and their rules (“Please don’t shout”) are nothing but polite requests.
This lack of pretense (which was always a benefit of drinking at the late Andersonville bar In Fine Spirits, where Ward owners Anne Carlson and Cody Modeer used to work) is just one of the charms here. Others include the frosty coupe the well-made Hemingway cocktail comes in; the simple tasting notes provided for each drink on the two-page cocktail list; the high-flavor, low-maintenance bar menu by Marianne Sundquist, which includes a sweet-and-salty farmer-cheese/fig/prosciutto sandwich; and the care with which nutmeg is grated over the smooth Elk’s Own, a whiskey cocktail from 1901.
The room is small and warmly lit. The bartenders are friendly and serious. The cocktails are practiced and perfect. But at Ward Eight, none of this is presented as a big, important deal. Here, the spectacle surrounding cocktail culture has been rubbed away, revealing a way of serving drinks that actually feels new.