Smile Politely

Reviving a Corpse at Seven Saints

In the evening, after the lights dim at Seven Saints in Champaign, the occasional flare emanates from the behind the dark bar as one of the bartenders lights up. Not for a smoke, but to apply a burst of heat to an ingredient and release extra flavor into a drink. Sometimes they light an spray of absinthe in a cocktail glass, other times, a twist of citrus to liberate potent oils from the fruit, and occasionally, a cube of sugar.

The first, a spray of absinthe, belongs in my favorite drink: the Corpse Reviver #2. Bartenders at Seven Saints introduced me to this drink and several other classic cocktails, which are a forte of the staff along with their expertise in distilled spirits.

The bright, citrusy Corpse Reviver #2 originated as a morning cocktail used to lessen the effects of a hangover, like the Bloody Mary. The drink hails from the 1930s when drinking alcohol in the morning (at least after Prohibition) was more acceptable. In this century, it’s probably wiser to revive yourself with this drink after a long day of work, not before. So during your next happy hour, take a seat amidst the stately decor at Seven Saints and order a Corpse Reviver #2.

From the first sip, each ingredient’s contribution is evident: Sweet notes from the Lillet Blanc and triple sec, sour from the lemon, and savory elements from the gin and absinthe. I call my gin in this drink and use North Shore Distiller’s Gin No. 11, because of the classic juniper flavors it contains. Mixologists also recommend other London dry gins like Beefeaters.

While you savor your cocktail, take a look around at the furnishings, reclaimed and repurposed from a Lutheran church, a bank, a chocolate roastery, and as lore has it, a pre-Katrina New Orleans bar. Seven Saints serves a carefully crafted cocktail made with by-the-book proportions and is not known for a heavy, free pour. When you leave, you know you’ve tasted the real Negroni, Manhattan, or Corpse Reviver #2 that you can get again and again with the same balanced flavors. And if you’re there when things aren’t too busy, catch one of the well-versed bartenders, or the manager, Andy Borbely, to answer your questions about spirits.

Seven Saints is located at 32 E. Chester St. in Champaign.

Hours: 11 a.m. – 2 a.m. daily

To recreate the Corpse Reviver #2 at home:

Corpse Reviver #2

  • 3/4 oz. gin
  • 3/4 oz. triple sec
  • 3/4 oz. Lillet Blanc
  • 3/4 oz. fresh lemon juice
  • a dash of absinthe to taste

Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Seven Saints drops a maraschino cherry in the bottom, a welcome addition to the drink, and using the juice from Meyer lemons softens the sour flavor somewhat. Although the bartenders light the absinthe spray with a flame as it enters the glass, I can’t recommend this as an at-home practice. However, rinsing the glass with absinthe provides just the right amount of the anise flavor needed to complement the other ingredients.

Thirsty Around Town explores alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages found in different venues around the Champaign-Urbana area. If you have a favorite obscure drink, email me. I want to try it!


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