By Karin Vandraiss
Whether you’re a lover scorned or just looking for a laugh, Alliance Bakery in Wicker Park has the antidote to excessive amounts of Hallmark-induced Love Potion No. 9.
Eight years ago owner Peter Rios and his decorators were tired of making the traditional Valentine’s Day cookies. “We were just sick of the whole idea, of the overexposure of Valentine’s Day,” Rios said, “so we decided to have some fun with it.”
The team starts brainstorming in January, and this year came up with over 40 ideas. They selected between 15 and 20 to actually use (the rest were deemed too explicit). However, Rios said that each year they push the envelope a bit farther. The selection ranges from “I want my CDs back” to “Your brother was better,” and everything in between.
Today we started brainstorming our anti-Valentine’s Day cookies. We do these every year. Got any you’d wanna see? http://t.co/jeZNHEzNSx
— Alliance Bakery (@Alliance_Bakery) January 14, 2015
“We started out fairly tame. We didn’t want to offend anyone. But each year the sayings got a little racier,” he said. They take care to keep the PG-13 and R-rated slogans on higher shelves, and often display them later in the day. “We do have families and kids that come in here, so we usually put those cookies out after 5 p.m.”
Customer Dana Spector browsed the cookies as she ordered her son’s fifth birthday cake. “These are really funny, actually!” she said, laughing. She said she would definitely consider buying one to give to her husband, or maybe one of her friends.
Julia Brennan, 24, works behind the counter. She said that she often sees couples buying them for one another, as well as a lot of single girlfriends. Her personal favorites are “I faked it” and “I still watch your Netflix.”
The cookies aren’t what you might expect from an award-winning pastry chef whose resume includes the Fairmont Chicago and Parisian bakery Ladurée, but Rios has a healthy sense of humor. The bakery also has taken on more controversial topics with their cookies in the past, from Rod Blagojevich to Je Suis Charlie.
Initially Rios was concerned that neighborhood residents might be offended by the anti-Valentine’s Day sentiment, but he said it has never been an issue. “We haven’t encountered anything truly mean-spirited,” he said. “They’re all in good fun. We haven’t come across anyone who really hates Valentine’s Day.”
While the bakery is known for its sophisticated sweets, Rios said they keep it simple for the iced cookies. “We go with a butter shortbread cookie, because they are a little bit more firm and they hold the icing together,” he said.
That doesn’t mean the decorations aren’t ornate. Jess Mercardo, the resident cookie decorator, said the idea is to do fancy scrollwork and stick to the conversation candy heart style when it comes to colors. “They’re pretty cookies, but the words aren’t always so beautiful,” she said.
You can still find iced cookies with traditional sayings in house, as well as desserts like chocolate shortbread with pink icing and heart-shaped cakes, but Rios said the Anti-Valentine’s Day cookies take the cake with customers.
The bakery makes between 150 and 300 cookies per week leading up to the big day, and nearly 500 cookies during Valentine’s week itself. They will be taking individual orders through Feb. 14, though customers should allow 2-3 days notice for custom cookies. The cookies are also available at Alliance’s new location in River North.
“They’re just funny cookies and people love them,” Rios said.