Chris Bollenbacher’s tryst with the St. Johns Central Hotel (8608 N Lombard St., 477-5489, centralhotelstjohns.com) was short but influential. This time last year, the former Cathedral Park Kitchen owner operated a top-notch cocktail bar, Juniper & Rye, in the under-renovation space that had previously been a series of dive bars known as Dad’s, John’s and Brad’s. Bollenbacher moved on after only a few months, but not before teaching a few tricks to the current bartender. Central splits the difference between the old dive and the promised Teardrop North. There’s still an ugly drop ceiling, a wall of lottery machines, an old piano and an old house phone rung by someone who wants the bartender to tell his buddies he’s running late. But when not lying to callers about customers’ whereabouts (bribe required), the city’s least pretentious mixologist is chopping fresh hunks from a big block of ice and mixing cocktails using clover and lavender bitters she made herself. An excellent Bachelor ($9)—a mix of bourbon, alcohol and more alcohol—would cost at least $12 anywhere south of here, and the house tap list shows a particular affinity for Old Town’s underrated Pints. What would help? Finishing the hotel upstairs. Because after two of these cocktails, you ain’t driving anywhere.