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New ’90s-Themed Bar Featuring a Mountain Dew Cocktail Serves Up Millennial Nostalgia in Logan Square

Daniel Hautzinger
Chef Rodolfo Cuadros poses for a portrait
The James Beard Award-recognized chef Rodolfo Cuadros is opening a cocktail lounge themed around '90s nostalgia with his business partners. Credit: Kinship

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Lace up your Docs and don your tube tops because it’s the ’90s and early 2000s again in Logan Square. A new cocktail lounge called The Basement conjures Millennial nostalgia with cocktails inspired by Neapolitan ice cream and Mountain Dew, as well as dishes cooked on a wood-burning oven from a James Beard Award-recognized chef.

The Basement, located at 2763 N. Milwaukee Avenue, is the latest venture from Rodolfo Cuadros and partners Brett Lander and Gustavo Ocampo, replacing their critically acclaimed vegan taqueria Don Bucio’s, which struggled to become commercially viable.

Whereas Cuadros and Lander’s first two restaurants, Amaru and Bloom Plant Based Kitchen in Wicker Park, are outgrowths of Cuadros’ background, The Basement originated with Lander.

“It’s an idea I’ve been thinking of for a bit,” Lander says, admitting that he has long fantasized about owning a neighborhood bar. The Basement is meant to recall the feeling of being “16 or 18, when you had no responsibilities and you would just hang out in your friend’s basement or the house or the garage and do kid stuff like have your first beer, your first kiss, and it was always the spot you met.”

The Basement draws on the memories of all three partners, with Star Wars memorabilia, baseball bats, skateboards (a teenage hobby of Lander), and a vaguely Aztec-style painting that Ocampo recalls seeing in his and other Mexican households while growing up. “It’s maximalist,” says Lander. “There are things hanging on every wall.”

The cocktails that are the star of the space also call back to teenage delights of a couple decades ago – but are calibrated to the tastes of the Millennials they are now. They were devised primarily by the Chicago suburbs-raised Lander, who’s also responsible for drinks at Amaru and Bloom.

Dr. Pepper and Mountain Dew are boiled down into concentrates to flavor drinks like a Manhattan and mojito. A Neapolitan Milk Punch features a bourbon base with homemade strawberry syrup and house-infused vanilla vodka that is then clarified with chocolate milk, leaving subtle flavors of tri-colored Neapolitan ice cream. “You get that creamy mouthfeel, a little cocoa background, vanilla, strawberry – it’s just a beautiful cocktail,” says Cuadros. Lander is still playing around with a drink featuring blue Gatorade, hoping to eventually add it to the menu.

“We’re trying to get back to a familiar feeling, something you might have had when you were younger,” Cuadros says.

Something you probably didn’t have when you were younger, because they didn’t really exist, are non-alcoholic cocktails, which The Basement is making a point of spotlighting. One highlight of the five or six options is a Mai Tai built off a non-alcoholic Caribbean rum, burnt sugar for bitterness, and orgeat made not from almonds but sesame, rosewater, and oat milk.

“We’re trying to make it so you’re not limited to just two [choices], and we’re just putting a lot more thought into them,” says Lander of the NAs.

The food is also not an afterthought, given that it’s coming from a chef who was a semifinalist for the James Beard Awards’ Best Chef: Great Lakes category in 2022. Almost everything on the short menu will take advantage of the wood-burning oven that the partners have installed, which continues the “cozy and warm” vibe of a friend’s home, as both Cuadros and Lander emphasized.

You can order a whole fish cooked on the fire or charred endive topped with muhammara made from peppers roasted in the oven. A burger and chicken tenders with Sichuan pepper glaze and ranch for dipping hew to the childhood theme, while steak frites is served with a chimichurri that calls back to Cuadros’ pan-Latin cooking at Amaru. The plant-based, vegan cooking that has garnered Cuadros national attention is not as present, although there are still vegetarian options, including a dish of housemade ricotta and a chunky Lebanese-style hummus.

“There’s always going to be vegetables because we believe that we all need to eat more vegetables,” says Cuadros, “but this is just American, with any influence we want, whether it be Asian or Italian or French or Hispanic or Latino … This is meant to represent the make-up of our country, whether some people like to admit it or not.”

While the partners are disappointed by the need to close Don Bucio’s – an impassioned description for a GoFundMe for its staff after the closure gives a sense of the despair they felt – they’re regrouping for The Basement. They have brought their chef from Bloom Sushi to The Basement, which necessitated closing that innovative stall at Uptown’s XMarket Food Hall, and have kept on any employees from Don Bucio’s who wanted to stay within their restaurant group. (Ocampo headed up the kitchen at Don Bucio’s.)

They haven’t given up on Don Bucio’s, and haven’t foreclosed bringing it back some form in when they have more solid financing and the world is more accepting of independent plant-based restaurants.

“People change slowly,” says Cuadros. “I would love for the whole world to realize that we should eat plant-based two, three days a week because of where the world is headed…But at the end of the day, I cook for a living, and I like all food. Food is joy, so we just try to figure out how to share a little bit more of that.”

The Basement is open Wednesday through Thursday from 5 pm to 12 am, Friday through Saturday from 5 pm to 2 am, and Sunday from 5 pm to 10 pm, with the kitchen closing at 10 pm Wednesday through Saturday and 9 pm on Sunday.