I am ashamed to admit that this review chronicles my first time at Bentley’s Pub. I usually like to pair cocktails with food, and since the bar has no food available, I don’t even remember to consider it. That excuse sounds ridiculous now that I’ve actually been to Bentley’s Pub.
From the outside, it’s unassuming, and on the inside, it’s even less. It’s dimly lit with high ceilings, string lights, plenty of tables, and a long bar. When we walked in, the bartender and the other patrons watched as we walked across the tile floor to take a seat at the bar.
For a dark bar with gambling machines, it was really nice inside. It was clean, and there was a QR code for the drink menu. The bar was decked in Halloween touches, and the cushioned barstools were comfortable. The lone bartender helped us immediately and was super relaxed.
My plan was to just have a cocktail before having dinner next door at Sticky Rice, but the drinks and jams were so good that I stayed even longer.
My first drink was the Briar Patch ($6), which was made with blackberry vodka, blackberry-elderflower liqueur, lemonade, soda, and a lemon garnish. I was super pleased with the size of this blackberry lemonade cocktail. The taste was refreshing and not too sweet. The blackberry flavor was subtle but enough to add dimension to the lemonade.
My date tried the White Lie, black. The White Lie ($5) had hazelnut coffee tequila and créme de cacao. The drink could be made black, with half and half, or with almond milk. It was a tasty iced coffee drink with a nice roasted nuttiness.
The next round, I ordered the old fashioned. The bartender warned me that it was a juicy old fashioned, and he asked if I wanted him to make me a more whiskey-forward old fashioned instead. I love an old fashioned, but I like twists on them, too, so I went for Bentley’s (juicy) old fashioned.
What the bartender didn’t mention was that Bentley’s old fashioned ($7) came with a flamed citrus peel which was pretty cool. He was not wrong: the old fashioned was juicy — but I rather enjoyed it. Made with house-infused tart cherry whiskey, brown sugar simple syrup, muddled orange, and Angostura bitters, it had a smooth, sweeter finish but still had a noteable whiskey warmth.
My date’s second drink was the Hot and Dirty Pickle ($7). This cocktail had simply jalapeño-garlic-dill vodka, olive brine, and olives, and it was super salty across the tongue. To me, the pepper and herbs in the vodka tasted a little like drinking a cold soup. The dill paired well with the brine, but with each sip, I didn’t know what to think. It was interesting, for sure, and oddly addictive if sipped in between the sweeter cocktails. It’s probably not for everyone, but if you like dirty martinis or pickle juice, you need to try this one.
We were going to close out our tab as we were definitely feeling the strong drinks, but then ABBA came on, so we stayed for one more round.
Like the classy woman that I am, I ordered the Squint ($4.50), a drink with Squirt soda and gin. Do you know the soda Squirt? It’s a grapefruit soft drink that was more popular in decades past. Squirt is an artisanal ingredient, people! Guess what? The spiked soda tasted like soda, just bubbly sweet with practically no alcohol taste — which I thought was great.
Lastly, my date had the Canadian coffee cocktail ($7). Made with Page Roasting cold brew, whiskey, and maple syrup, the cocktail tasted like breakfast. The bold coffee flavor from Page Roasting Company cold brew went so well with the pancake sweetness of the syrup, and what better to spike the coffee with than whiskey? The drink’s shot of whiskey paired perfectly with the maple sweetness and roasted coffee flavor. It was a nice boozy cup of joe.
I know there are a lot of bars in Downtown Champaign — and I love them, too — but there’s really nothing like Bentley’s Pub. Here, just one drink is enough to feel a solid buzz, and the vibe is charmingly casual. Bentley’s Pub is a cool neighborhood bar for any night out but especially for an apertif before a dinner out in Downtown Champaign.
419 N Neil St
3 p.m. to 2 a.m.