Otto Mezzo Infuses Chicago's River North With Italian Flavor

Mixologist Brandon Phillips stirs up Fellini-inspired cocktails at the late-night hotspot.

Where people who know drinks go to drink: That’s the idea behind Otto Mezzo, the new Italian cocktail bar by Rockit Ranch Productions—the same people who brought you Sunda, The Duck Inn and The Underground.

Headed by mixologist Brandon Phillips—Chicago Tribune’s 2016 Bartender of the Year—and chef Kevin Hickey—Chicago Tribune’s 2016 Chef of the Year—Otto Mezzo, which swung open its doors late April 2017, is meant to be a haven for drinkers with discriminating tastes. The extensive drink list features house-made Lambrusco, a highlycurated collection of hard-to-find Italian beers, plenty of amaro and grappa and, of course, an Italian wine selection created by Phillips’ brother, sommelier Michael Taylor.

Brandon Phillips

While Phillips admits that “booze and spirits are our cornerstones,” he certainly hasn’t neglected the cuisine. Hickey, who earned rave reviews for The Duck Inn, has whipped up a small-but-impressive menu of authentic Italian dishes: Expect burrata-stuffed olives and nduja, truffle fonduta and daily pastas. Plus, the menu will run until 3 am (4 am on Saturdays).

Otto Mezzo restaurant interior in Chicago

Named after the Federico Fellini movie “Otto e Mezzo,” Otto Mezzo aims to emanate the glamour of 1940s Italy.

“Everything we’ve done, every style, every color, is driven by European art deco,” said Phillips. “To narrow my viewpoint down to one country and making it the world that everything exists in for this space, that’s been challenging but exciting.”

To that end, guests can expect Italian classics: white marble mixed with rose gold and brass, all in a dark, sexy environment.

But for Phillips, the retro-Italian theme is more than just an homage to a movie, it’s a chance to reconnect with his roots. “Italy as a culture has always been really close to my heart,” he said, explaining that his grandmother was an Italian who fell in love with an American GI during WWII. To pay respect to his heritage and her memory, the barman has created the Chiampan: a Lambrusco cocktail bearing her maiden name.

“She loved Lambrusco, it was her favorite thing,”said Phillips, then adds with a laugh, “Mind you, she drank the cheapest Lambrusco she could find.”