Pop-Up Tonic Bar Comes to Small Change for One Night Only This Monday

Bartender Nick Kokonas will be hosting a pop-up tonic bar at Small Change this Monday. - NEIL BURGER
Bartender Nick Kokonas will be hosting a pop-up tonic bar at Small Change this Monday.

When Chicago-based bartender Nick Kokonas set out to learn more about tonic, he didn't realize just how much the drink impacted the course of western civilization. Now, his deep-dive is the new book, Something & Tonic: A History of the World's Most Iconic Mixer, and he's coming to town to share what he's learned — over cocktails, of course.

Kokonas will be at Small Change (2800 Indiana Avenue) this Monday, October 4, for a pop-up tonic bar where event-goers can try several cocktails featured in the book, chat with him about his research and grab a personalized, hardcover copy of Something & Tonic. The pop-up tonic bar will run from 4-9 p.m., and admission is free with drinks and the book available for purchase.

Kokonas is excited to share what he's learned about tonic at the event and believes the story of the beverage will fascinate those who come to see just how much it has impacted the world, and its complicated history, well beyond the bar.

"Most people know about what tonic is, but once you actually look at the depth of history and how it was a catalyst for western civilization and colonization, you see how it really shaped the world as it is today," Kokonas says. "I became absolutely fascinated with the fact that it had such a profound effect on history and then how it got into everyone's highball glass."

According to Kokonas' research, tonic played an integral role in Western European's colonization of Africa, India and other sub-tropical regions of the world because of the antimalarial properties of its key ingredient, quinine, which is found in the bark of the cinchona tree. Prior to this discovery, Western European excursions into areas where malaria is prevalent ended with many dying of the mosquito-borne disease; once quinine was discovered, it was found to be effective in protecting people against the disease when taken as a prophylactic. It became common practice to dissolve the cinchona bark into sherry or beer or whatever alcoholic beverages were available to protect oneself from getting sick.

Kokonas' research shows that tonic was originally patented in 1858 and spread throughout Britain's East India Company, ultimately becoming a popular beverage on the Subcontinent. How it then became the quintessential mixer with gin is a little murkier, but Kokonas has some theories that he reveals in the book.

"I wanted to follow the chronological path of tonic, but keep in mind spirits and alcohol the whole way through," Kokonas says. "The more I researched, the more fascinating it became."

Kokonas is excited to share what he's learned with those who come to the pop-up bar, and he is also eager to show people tonic's versatility. Though he acknowledges its perception as a gin mixer, he hopes to expand people's notion of the beverage by pairing it with other spirits, one drink at a time.

"I want to open people's imagination's to this ingredient that is very flavorful and versatile and had such an impact on the world," Kokonas says.

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