My taxi picked me up in downtown Chicago and I told the driver to take me to the Pilsen neighborhood, just three miles southwest of the Chicago Loop where I was staying. The area was originally inhabited by Czech immigrants who named the neighborhood Pilsen after the Czech Republic city Plzeň. The area then became predominantly Latino.
He argued with me and kept questioning why I wanted to go there. I couldn’t understand why he was so resistant and explained that I knew exactly where I wanted to go…..Punch House, located in the historical Thalia Hall.
Thalia Hall, modeled after Prague’s opera house, was built in 1891 by original proprietor John Dusek and the neighborhood’s Eastern European immigrants. The space has been restored and today is a music venue/event space, as well as Dusek’s restaurant and The Tack Room, a bar in the former carriage house. And, downstairs is Punch House.
The large, dark space, retro lamps, vinyl booths and wood panels will take you back to a 1970’s basement. With trophy fish on the walls and a glowing fish tank behind the bar that illuminates the room, Punch House embraces its maritime origins of its name sake drink: punch. Punch House’s Founder, William Duncan, has created a menu of punches that include centuries-old “classic” recipes, as well as “contemporary” libations. With six punches on tap, three punches bottled and tableside Champagne punch service, the key to a properly balanced punch is the five tenets: strong, weak, bitter, sour and sweet.
I took a seat at the bar and bartender Chadwick Johnson started serving up the punches!
Spring Whiskey Punch (Good Bourbon, House 5 Alive (tangerine, orange, lemon, lime and grapefruit), orange bitters, sparkling wine and mint) – A tart punch that is perfect to start the night, the burbon is subtle and comes through on the finish.
Dusek’s Punch #5 (Brugal Extra Dry, Rotating 5Rabbit Paletas [a guava based beer], Mexcal, strega, honey, lemon, chili salt) – The guava pops while the mezcal adds a hint of smokiness.
Smoochin Under The Clocktower (Reposado Tequila, “Balah El Shamsacchrum” [macerate with citrus and sugar then sit for 48 hours], Kummel [caraway/cumin/fennel liquor], walnuts, lemon, rosemary) – A house specialty, the punch has a Moroccan feel and is a drink you can spend time ruminating over.
Quoit Punch, Late 1700s (Jamaican Rum, Good Cognac, Madeira, lemon, sugar, water) [Quoit is the name of a game similar to horseshoes played at the Quoit Club, a country club in Virginia] – The drink is smooth and sexy and the flavor lingers.
Picnic Punch (Beefeater Gin, Dominican Rum, Sauvignon Blanc, lemon, pineapple) – An herbaceous cocktail, this is a gin lovers punch.
Space Juice for Jered (Blanco Tequila, grapefruit, lime, Luxardo Bitter, black pepper, sparkling wine, sage)
Along with all of the punches, Punch House offers a menu that includes fresh east and west coast oysters, bar snacks (beef fat fries, oven roasted blue crab dip, oven roasted olives) and a Fondue pot served with house-baked pretzels, crispy confit pork belly, tempura vegetables and cured meats.
1227 W. 18th St.