At Esmeralda’s Lounge, they’re playing with fire

Humboldt Park bar evokes Caribbean spirit

CHICAGO — If you couldn’t get away for spring break this year, there’s a hidden gem on Chicago’s West Side that will transport you to a tropical island – at least for a few hours.

Esmeralda’s Lounge, located on the section of Division Street known as the Puerto Rican Promenade, is decorated like a bar in Old San Juan.

“This is Puerto Rico within the city,” said Sarah Clabots, director of operations for Vintage Nightlife, the group that owns Esmeralda’s.

Esmeralda’s sets itself apart with bartenders (called “star-tenders”) who put on a show for the customers.

“If you’re lucky enough, I’ll even light the bar on fire for you,” said Javier Carrasco, one of the bartenders trained in the art making of flaming drinks. “When you’re behind the bar, it’s kind of like you’re on stage.” 

Carrasco, 29, is mixing tropical drinks like mojitos and pina coladas. But it’s the fire that leaves customers thirsting for more.

“It’s fire in an unexpected place, at an unexpected time, so that makes it more exciting,” Carrasco said,

After igniting the alcohol, Carrasco sprinkles salt and specks of cinnamon that adds color and flair to the flames.

“It changes the color, and kind of creates like a sulfur effect, and then we do cinnamon,” he said. “Cinnamon is flammable, so it kind of makes it spark up, and at the same time you’re getting all of those aromatics in. So that creates a nice atmosphere along with the show.”

The fire is all controlled and performed on a marble slab.

“The bar top is not wood,” Carrasco said. “It’s not going to expand the fire. It’s going to be controlled. It just takes a lot of practice. I wouldn’t recommend doing it at home.”

The experience is meant to transport you far from home – to the Caribbean – and the burning passion of the Puerto Rican people.

“We want people to feel like, when they come here, they’re on vacation,” Clabots said.

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