SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Absolut, the Swedish vodka maker is marketing a new drink - some purists will never deem it truly vodka - called Absolut Chicago. They describe its taste as rich and aromatic with intriguing herbal notes of rosemary and thyme in a harmonious blend, which sounds more like Simon and Garfunkel than Chicago.
No one can put all the flavors of one of the most diverse cities in the world into a bottle. Even if you could, as a devoted Chicagoan, I feel compelled to point out that it's rarely a harmonious blend. Just go to a city council meeting.
Rosemary and thyme are fine, subtle flavors but a little tame. If the mixologists at Absolut ever invited my advice on how to make a vodka taste like Chicago, I'd suggest a sprig of Mexican epazote, a stem from a Sicilian olive tree, a sprinkle of Indian cardamom seeds, a spritz of char from a grilled Polish sausage, a shake of celery salt from a kosher Chicago dog, a speckle of Greek anise seeds and Chinese five-spice powder.
Then I'd mix in a shot glass of grit from the novels of Saul Bellow, Sara Paretsky, Richard Wright, Aleksandar Hemon and Scott Turow; a kick of cold lake wind, a jolt of hot jazz, a drop of the blues, and something wry from the Second City theater.
I'd dye the vodka green like the Chicago River on St. Patrick's Day and pour it into a sleek black Bauhaus bottle designed by Mies with a Sandburg poem on the label that says: City of Big Shoulders and Big Gulps. And maybe a thumbprint from Roger Ebert.
But would even that capture Chicago's flavor? This week Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois suspended all payments to UNO. Not the Chicago-style pizza chain, but the United Neighborhood Organization, which runs 16 charter schools. The state has given UNO $83 million; the city has given UNO tens of millions more.
One of their top executives, Miguel d'Escoto, resigned this year after the Chicago Sun-Times reported that UNO dispersed more than $8 million in contracts to construction firms owned by due of Mr. d'Escoto's brothers. The Securities and Exchange Commission has opened a federal investigation.
Juan Rangel, UNO's CEO, was co-chairman of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's campaign, and reportedly has close ties to Michael Madigan, the Illinois House speaker. Everything might be totally kosher, if you please. But the closeness between public officials, construction companies and contracts might suggest another way to flavor Absolut Chicago: crumpled up dollar bills:
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CLOSE TO YOU")
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