Diversity, Deep Dish And Cognac: Drinking with Alexis Brown

During the inaugural Chicago Style conference, there was a seminar discussion on diversity and that is the first time I was met Alexis Brown. Although small in stature, Brown has a personality and energy that is large enough to fill an entire room.  We immediately recognized the powerful magnetism, drive and determination in a game respects game way and set out to get to know this bar talent.

Hailing from the south side of Chicago, Alexis has been an industry professional for 4 years but her life’s experience in hospitality gives her enough leverage to stand tall amongst the greats that the bar industry is producing. 10+ years in design, planning and event execution with Luminosity Chicago makes what she does exciting, fun and intuitive.

She uses her passions to engage and educate the masses, while creating a platform to bring awareness about the history of the bar industry and shine a light on the disenfranchised and underrepresented of the hospitality industry through Causing A Stir. Now that you have a bit more background on this spitfire, let’s go drinking with Alexi Brown.

Drinking with Alexis Brown

Let’s start by telling us about the overall philosophy behind Causing a Stir.

The original goal for the Causing A Stir was to share information and resources with individuals that did not have access and create a platform for them to be highlighted and elevate their craft.

With it developing into a charity organization, our vision is to assist underserved and underrepresented individuals in helping them get more involved and navigate the hospitality industry. We want to guide and shape their experience and open them up to the many opportunities we discovered from diving in head first, through mentorship and leading off the bench.

How did you get started in the bar biz?

My start was at a nightclub in 2009 (then Vibe, once Crobar, now Prism) working in coat check before being “promoted” to a beer tub & shot girl.  After vying and begging for a spot behind the bar, I attended a bartending school, my former manager at Vibe finally gave me a break.  It was at another one of their venues called Lasalle Power Company on the service well. I could write a book about all the places I’ve worked throughout the city, ranging from nightclubs, strip clubs and neighborhood lounges to Wrigleyville leading up to landing a front of house position at The Aviary.

Before that my unofficial start was fetching my mom, aunts and uncles Vodka & Cranberry cocktails, red solo cup style, at the family house parties.

What is your current go-to drink order?

My current go-to boozy drink is a ‘Blonde Bombshell’ (1.5 oz Cognac, 0.5 oz Apricot Brandy, 0.5 oz Licor 43 and 0.5 oz Lemon Juice)

Coffee or Tea?

I am an over-consumer of tea and I usually have about 6 cups a day! I prefer green and herbal tea and usually just with a touch of honey, if any at all. After dinner, I’ll sometimes have an espresso with raw or brown sugar if ginger tea isn’t available.

If I am on the go in Chicago and heading downtown, I usually stop at Sip & Savor on 43rd Street to grab a tea. If I’m staying in the neighborhood, the Sip & Savor on 53rd Street in Hyde Park is my usual meeting spot and Zen space to get work done and enjoy their wide selection of herbals.

Tell us about your first boozy experience?

So, my first overly boozy experience was in college at SIUC with E&J, pre-mixed in a Pepsi bottle in the late summer / early fall of 2007. All I remember was my homegirl, Eulisa, saying, “this is all I drink, it’s so good! Just add a little Pepsi to it. It’ll get you right!” It resulted in my first and only black out. Needless to say, E&J brandy and I never reconciled after that bought of betrayal.

What is your hangover remedy?

Hangover Remedy = Coconut water and REST! Depending on how bad of a hangover and how early of a start, I drink plenty of water to cleanse my system and follow up by coconut water with pineapple, a green smoothie and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

If you are vacation day drinking, what’s your not so guilty pleasure poison?

If I’m vacationing anywhere, then it’s probably by some body of water and sand. Call me basic, but I love a well balanced, blended Piña Colada or a proper Caipirinha for vacation day drinking. If I’m feeling frisky, I’ll do a split based plantation pineapple and cognac daiquiri, UP.

Not to be morbid, but we all gotta go … so what is your very last sip deathbed drink to toast farewell?

It would have to be a pour of the finest Cognac available from 1989, the year of our Madame Alexis Brown, first of her name, to commemorate her life and times!

If you could have drinks with anyone dead, alive or fictional, who would it be and what would you both be drinking?

It would be my paternal great, great, great grandmother, Fredonia Smith Parrish. She was born into slavery in Callands, Virginia in 1840 and is the oldest relative my family has an account for to trace our lineage. I’d just like to unwind and chat with her about her life’s experience and see what characteristics I inherited from her over a glass of aged rum.

Who is the best industry drinking buddy for a wild night?

The best industry drinking buddy for a wild night has to be Ariel Neal. The drunker she gets the funnier and less filtered the night gets.

What’s your closing song to shut down the bar?

At my old bar, M Vie, my closing song/performance was ‘My Love’ by Jess Glynne. It was a sure fire way to piss my team off and ensure a speedy closing but give the remaining guests a little acoustic send off in the meantime! When I hopped on the mic everyone in the building knew it was time to go home.

We admire your passion and work to support and promote the underrepresented – who is someone that might not be on our radar yet, but should?

Keep Jenesis Reynolds in Chicago on your radar! The lady is talented and her mind possesses wisdom beyond her years. I’ve had the pleasure of working with and managing her early on at M Vie. Witnessing her growth, hustle and development has makes beyond proud. She left the Allis Bar at Soho House in Chicago after two and a half years and has currently taken her talents to the Southside at The Promontory in Hyde Park.

What is the coolest experience Causing a Stir has afforded you thus far?

The coolest experience CAS has afforded me was my most recent trip to Accra, Ghana. I had the opportunity to chat with female servers, bartenders and mobile bar owners from the Ghana Bartenders Guild. Hearing the struggles and adversities with lack of equal opportunity and discrimination from the women there was initially disheartening but being able to decompress the frustration over cocktails and grant some insight and support to changing the cultural narrative left me feeling ambitious and purposeful. For CAS’s mission to have a reach in another continent is powerful in itself, to be able to have face time and share an experience with these women was beyond rewarding. I am eager and ready to continue the fight; advocating and inspiring for those that feel voiceless, unseen and unheard.

If a guest gave you a million dollar tip, what cause would you donate to and why?

I would donate it to a Causing A Stir outreach fund to help expose women to opportunities they may believe are unattainable due to barriers beyond their control.

What are some tips for young guns looking to break into the industry?

It takes time and experience to hone your craft. Be willing to put in the labor and understand there is no book you can read to become a good bartender overnight. It all has to be demonstrated in your work ethic and knowledge of the industry. The more you know, the more you grow! It’s a journey, not a destination.

Chicago Deep Dish or Hot Dogs – why and where?

Chicago Deep Dish! I grew up on Giordanos Deep Dish Cheese Pizza and in more recent years fell in love with Lou Malnati’s Veggie Deep Dish Pizza, YUM!

Fun Fact: I haven’t eaten meat in over 4 years so Hot Dogs are out unless it’s a veggie dog.

Alexis is a Chi-Town native. Here are her favorite Chicago Hospitality suggestions for:

Taking out-of-towners for the quintessential “Only in CHI” experience

  • Jazzin’ at The Shedd (a live music set on Thursday’s at The Shedd Aquarium after hours that coincides with Fireworks from nearby Navy Pier.
  • A must-experience visit to the Art Institute and the Chicago History Museum.
  • Navy Pier Board Walk to catch the Architecture Boat Tour.
  • Pro Tip: The BEST view of the Chicago skyline is from the steps of the Planetarium.
  • During the summer, A walk or bike down the Lake Shore Trail from Promontory Point to 31st Street Beach to stop and take in Lake Michigan at the Harbour with a nice drink and some tunes from the resident DJ.
  • During the winter, ice skating in Millennium Park and gazing into The Bean for a snow dusted skyline.

Romantic “let’s get it on” date night

Dinner at Blackbird or Schwa followed up by Drinks at Violet Hour or Maude’s Liquor Bar

A Classic Dive Bar

  • Southside: Red’s Lounge on 69th & Stony Island (chill vibes with great tunes, my jam is karaoke night and ordering fried shrimp from the spot next door)
  • Geno’s on 127th (lots of live music and great soul food)
  • The Cove on 53rd in Hyde Park (next to Cholies where you can grab a slice of pizza and hit the bar for a big ass beer)
  • Downtown: Clark Street Ale House one of the only 4am bars in the city (perfect for end of shift beer and a shot)
  • Northside: Best Intentions or Sportsman Club (local bartenders bars)

Super Crafty Cocktails

  • The Drifter (my bar, duh)
  • Aviary
  • Billy Sunday
  • Vol 39

Turn Up Spot

  • Southside: The Promontory (Upstairs)
  • Downtown: Ace Hotel Rooftop
  • Northside: East Room

Outdoor Drinking in warmer weather

  • Boleo atop the Kimpton Gray Hotel, their Panoramic roof is to die for, plus you can occasionally find DJ Sadie Woods there spinning.
  • La Sirena Clandestina’s patio is on a nice serene corner that gets plenty of sun. With Brazilian cuisine and mirroring cocktails you can slightly be transported if you have a good enough imagination.
  • Luxbar on Rush Street for the “Viagra Triangle People Watching”

Shameless plug time, what are you working on that the thirsty readers can expect you and/or Causing a Stir?

I’m currently polishing up an in-depth curriculum for aspiring bartenders focusing on the basics of hospitality, spirits, wine and cocktails from a black historical context. This curriculum will be implemented at the CAS Institute soon coming!

For the past three years, I’ve been conducting research on African American contributions to the American hospitality industry and highlighting these unheralded pioneers through the story of service, spirits and cocktails.

I don’t think we as an industry discuss openly or put into perspective how “hospitality” in America has been shaped by slavery and how jobs such as bartenders, farmers, and porters were once outlets for these individuals to purchase their freedom. For example, being a Pullman Porter or working as a maid on the train car was one of the first jobs of dignity a former slave could have migrating from the south to the north. These individuals contributed largely (if not mostly) to the development of the black middle class in America. Those men, women and their families established themselves and a flourishing community right on the Southside of Chicago (in the Pullman neighborhood) and their stories are rarely highlighted.

I’m making it my life’s mission to tell these stories unapologetically from the perspective of the most underrepresented demographic in our industry, a black woman.

Follow Alexis Brown at @lexluga and Causing a Stir at @causingastir on Instagram. 

The Drifter Details

676 N Orleans St, Chicago, IL 60654;River North, Near North Side; 312631-3887; thedrifterchicago.com; @thedrifterchicag

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