- North America,
- United States
I'm heading to Chicago to visit some friends and family for Labor Day weekend! I plan on going to the African Art Festival, eating until I pass out (Roman-style!), rooting for the White Sox, walking around the South Side to check out the Obama grafitti that's been springing up, and generally having a great time.
I.O. Theater, Illinois
Chicago, Illinois 60657
Tel: 773 880 0199
Formerly called the Improv Olympics, the I.O. is the city's "other" famous comedy club (it plays second fiddle to the better-known Second City). Upstairs you'll find stadium seating in the Del Close Theater, where the set shows are performed, while downstairs, the Cabaret Theater's tables have room for around 100 people. It's here you'll find the improv for which the club is famous. The experience here is far more intimate than at Second City; you feel like you're practically on stage with the comedians. Drinks and pizza are available in both theaters.
Performance times vary; call ahead.
Vic Theater, Illinois
Chicago, Illinois 60657
Tel: 773 472 0449
In the early 1900's, the Vic was the Victoria Theatre, a five-story vaudeville house. These days, the intimate venue (it holds up to 1,400) is looking its age, but the Italian marble of the lobby floor and staircases still impresses, and the original wall sculptures of plants, vines, and female faces have been restored. More importantly, the acoustics are as good as ever, and it remains one of the city's best places to catch hot local acts and national performers from David Bowie to Nanci Griffith. When live shows aren't scheduled, the venue transforms into a movie theater for its popular "Brew and View" nights, when second-run and cult classic films are screened, and the well-lubricated crowd can be quite talky.
Map Room, Illinois
Chicago, Illinois 60647
Tel: 773 252 7636
Owners Mark and Laura Blasingame have two passions in life—traveling and beer— and their cozy pub is a showcase for both. The giant map of the world covering the walls and the library of National Geographic magazines (which fills several dilapidated bookcases) are impressive, but the beer selection is what really sets it apart. Belgian and regional brews are the specialties; in addition to the 250 bottled beers offered, 27 are always on tap, one of which is cask-conditioned, stored in its own cooler, and served in the old-school manner via hand pump. Sunday night is movie night, and Tuesday is international night, with a free dinner buffet (with a two-drink minimum) catered by neighborhood restaurants.
Open Mondays through Fridays 6:30 am to 2 am, Saturdays 7:30 am to 3 am, Sundays 11 am to 2 am.
Chicago, Illinois 60622
Tel: 773 227 4433
Finding this aptly named bar can be a major challenge. Don't even attempt to take public transportation here; just get in a cab (your taxi driver will know where it is) and look for the glowing "Old Style Beer" sign that's a beacon of light in this warehousey no-man's-land. It's quite literally a hole in the wall: Faded beer cans rust on the windowsills, and the backroom "lounge," with its thrift store–quality furniture and makeshift "stage," feels more like a college dorm room than a bar displaced Chicagoans get all misty-eyed about. But the legendary place is also ground zero for the city's fertile alternative country/postpunk music scene. There's live music every night; local outfit Devil in a Woodpile plays a raucous mix of ragtime, acoustic blues, and jug tunes with no cover charge every Tuesday. If members of your party prefer fancy drinks, head elsewhere; there's a limited selection of spirits here. Cans of PBR, however, are a mere $2 (and worth every penny).
Open Tuesdays 7 pm to 2 am, Wednesdays through Fridays 4 pm to 2 am, Saturdays 7 pm to 3 am.
Local favorite Shawn McClain is known for tinkering with tradition. His Spring adds a subtle Asian accent to seafood, and the homely vegetable won a glamorous makeover at his Green Zebra, with dishes like roasted spaghetti squash served with crispy chestnuts and savory yogurt. But it's Custom House that truly earns the title of new wave standard bearer. The Printers' Row kitchen establishes its heartland heart quickly with a wall of Wright-like limestone that's both homespun and chic. The same double-barreled sensibility drives the menu, an homage to the sheer glory of meat that includes steak, of course, but also a juicy roasted Berkshire pork chop with an unexpected side of grilled plums, and braised short ribs that are so tender they slide off the bone if you look at them wrong, or right.
Open Mondays through Thursdays 11:30 am to 10 pm, Fridays 11:30 am to 10:30 pm Saturdays 5 to 10:30 pm, and Sundays 5 to 9 pm.
Wiener's Circle, Illinois
Chicago, Illinois 60614
Tel: 773 477 7444
There are literally hundreds of places in town that serve respectable Chicago-style hot dogs: char-grilled Vienna beef topped with mustard, chopped onions, bright green relish, a sliced tomato, peppers, a pickle spear, and a few dashes of celery salt on a steamed Rosen's poppy-seed bun. But none are tastier, or served by a more shockingly rude staff, than at this beloved shack in Lincoln Park. The service here is reminiscent of Seinfeld's famous soup Nazi—and probably best experienced after a few drinks. It's all in good fun and part of the shtick, but expect to be publicly and mercilessly humiliated if you don't order promptly and decisively.
Open Sundays through Thursdays 11 am to 4 am, Fridays and Saturdays 11am to 5 am.
Chicago, Illinois 60607
Tel: 312 491 0058
It's fairly safe to say that no matter how much of a foodie you are, you'll never have experienced anything quite like what you'll find at Homaro Cantu's austere, intimate restaurant. Cantu practices what is known as molecular gastronomy, a postmodern approach to cooking that is often multisensory. While the menu is constantly changing, and some dishes are prepared in familiar ways, Cantu likes to shoot lasers at vanilla beans to extract their essence and then coat the inside of a wineglass with it. He's also fond of carbonating his fruit salsas by adding CO2 to them under pressure, and freezing everything from artichoke purée to flapjacks in liquid nitrogen. The surprising thing is how delicious his science projects taste, and how popular the place has become with jet-setters, who have been known to fly in just for the opportunity to sample the Pacific bass, which is baked tableside with heirloom tomato broth and served in a futuristic-looking polymer box. Even more startling, perhaps, is how affordable the dining experience is: Five-course tasting meals start at just $70 per person.
Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 5 pm to 11 pm.
Chicago, Illinois 60606
Tel: 312 715 0708
The neighborhood surrounding it continues to gentrify, but Paul Kahan's Mediterranean-inspired restaurant remains refreshingly simple. The service is friendly and prompt, and the tables are tucked together so tightly that eavesdropping on the well-heeled young professionals who surround you is inevitable. Kahan's specialty is allowing individual tastes to shine, and his best dishes are those made from just a few perfectly prepared regional ingredients—like venison from Minnesota, locally grown cauliflower, and house-smoked trout. Another option is to duck into Avec, Blackbird's slightly dressed-down sibling right across the street. It's noisier, lined with narrow communal tables, and, thanks to its sleek wood walls, looks something like a sauna. But dishes like chorizo-stuffed Medjool dates wrapped in smoked bacon with piquillo pepper–tomato sauce, and crispy duck leg with plums are every bit as good as what you'll find at Blackbird.
Blackbird is open Mondays through Thursdays 11:30 am to 2 pm and 5:30 pm to 10:30 pm, Fridays 11:30 am to 2 pm and 5:30 pm to 11 pm, Saturdays 5:30 pm to 11 pm; closed Sundays..
Avec is open Mondays through Thursdays 3:30 pm to midnight, Fridays and Saturdays 3:30 pm to 1 am, Sundays 3:30 pm to 10 pm.
James Chicago, Illinois
Chicago, Illinois 60611
Tel: 877 526 3755 (toll-free), Tel: 312 337 1000
Partners Danny Errico (owner of the Equinox fitness club chain) and Brad Wilson (co-founder of the W hotel chain), along with restaurateur Stephen Hanson and architect Deborah Berke, pulled off a nifty trick when they opened this property in April 2006. Together, they've created a downtown hotel that is both stylishly luxurious and a showcase for eclectic artwork. The airy lobby and guest rooms double as galleries for local up-and-coming modern artists, and even the enclosed courtyard has been turned into a video-projection exhibit space. The 297 rooms are decorated in earth tones and modernist furniture, with 42-inch plasma TVs and iPod docking stations. Some have nooks with king-sized daybeds; others have projection DVD players and surround sound. The hotel is home to David Burke's Primehouse, an outpost of the nouveau steak house in New York City, as well as a small spa, a gleaming gym, and the adjacent J Bar, which has quickly become one of the trendiest bars—hotel or otherwise—in town.