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The 312: Field Museum invokes vodou spirits for partnership with local bars

It’s not surprising that some bars turned down the opportunity to partner with The Field Museum in making themed drinks that meet the approval of the deities whose likenesses are on display in the Vodou: Sacred Powers of Haiti exhibit.

Of course timing was a factor as this boozy assignment had a quick turnaround. But one can’t help but to wonder if, understandably, some bars decided they didn’t want to get mixed up in anyone’s religion. Regardless, more than a handful of North Side establishments opted in for the challenge. So from now until April 26, the end of The Field’s expansive Vodou exhibit, several local joints will showcase a themed drink that pays homage to one of four specific spirits, or “Lwa,” as they are called by practitioners. In turn, the special coaster that comes with each drink will give a person $5 off Field museum admission.

A big question, though, is this: Will the “Spirits for Spirits” program offend?

“As I understand it, the spirits — they are not just serious — they have a sense of humor,” says Alaka Wali, the Field Museum’s curator of North American anthropology and director of applied cultural research. “That’s why we felt it appropriate to play with some of their playfulness.”

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According to the museum, the four Lwa selected for this program within a program all were “carefully chosen” because they have a history of “loving popular drinks.” Wali also says several local Vodou and Haitian experts were sought for their advice on the matter, and all agreed that — depending upon the deity in question — a themed drink would be OK.

That’s important to note because, as exhibit curator Rachel Beauvoir-Dominique said a few months ago, each deity has to personally asked if he or she or they wanted to go on display in Chicago. Then, from the pop culture side of things, the program ties nicely into the ongoing craft cocktail culture that’s still going strong in the city.

“This was such a great project for us because all the drinks are based on a profile,” says Laura Green, the “Queen of Drinky Things” at Geek Bar Chicago. Green’s research led to a drink intended to honor Ogou Feraille, a soldier spirit who enjoys cigars, strong drinks and women. “I wanted something boozy but sensual for this spirit. And I wanted the flavors of the place of origin, but I wanted the familiarity of the Midwest.”

The result is a concoction that includes Mount Gay Rum, Banane du Bresil and flamed orange. Cough. Yes. It’s strong.

The Barrelhouse Flat honored Danbala with a drink, the $13 Horchata Borracha. It centers on three types of rum — Black Strap Cruzan, Lemon Hart 151 and El Dorado. Plus the drink has kicks of smoked cinnamon. The restaurant didn’t simply go with the first recipe either. “There was a lot of trial and error,” mixologist Mark Brinker says.

The Boundary also riffed off of Danbala with something called “Danbala’s Milk.” The ingredients? Stoli Chocolat Kokonut, Kahlua and cream. “He’s not necessarily a fan of liquor being presented to him as an offering, but we think he’d like this,” Sarah Anderson, assistant general manager, says of the $9 drink. “It’s kind of a take on a white Russian.”

A drink honoring Erzulie Freda went to the next level by incorporating four-year Rhum Barbancourt, Varichon et Clerc sparkling rose, Peychaud’s Bitters and orange blossom water. “It’s a twist on a French 75,” says Wally Anderson, bar manager for Roger’s Park Social. “It got really creative, which is cool, but you don’t want to be offensive. I researched Erzulie. We added Rhum Barbancourt [to our bar menu.] I’m hoping people like it.”