Help! Staying Downtown at the Palmer House Hilton
A friend and I are coming into town for a conference on Nov. 14 thru the 18th. Okay, she's there for the conference and I'm there for fun! We will be staying at the Palmer House Hilton at 17 East Monroe Street. We need some help looking for cool places to try around our area. We want to stay away from any chains - bars, restaurants, and otherwise - and will probably want at least one nicer dinner, some good places for coffee, good places for wine/beer drinking and a few places for more casual (but still yummy!) meals. We are both ladies in our mid/late twenties who have never been to Chicago. And if there is a 'can't miss' that's a little bit of a trek from our location, we don't mind an adventure.
Thanks for your input!
Thought I'd give Chi-town update - we had a blast (and ate well, among other things).
First night, straight from O'Hare, we went to Exchequer just around the corner from the Palmer House. Pub-style/student-y place, decent service, tried a pint of Chicago's Goose Island Harvest ale, had a HUGE bowl of yummy chili, good overall.
Next day, popped over to Orange, but they were closing as I arrived - visited some nice book shops and wine shops in Printer's Alley area - so had guinness at Blackies which seemed like a chain-style bar. Decent draft list, nice bartender, sports on the TV, the most thanksgiving decorations i'd ever seen! Dinner was at Custom House. The bar manager for all 3 restaurants (others are Spring and Green Zebra) poured the cocktails, which were AMAZING, and we chatted about the drink menu. The drinks were very creative, very well executed (I had the vodka, ginger, calvados, etc. one and friend had the infused-sauvignon blanc vermouth-y one - see online menu). The meal was phenomenal, wine list diverse - big without being obnoxious, bottles sorted by varietal. I had the spinach salad, pork chop and polenta. Friend had winter squash soup, skirt steak, and brussel sprouts. We had dessert drinks (although the proper desserts looked great) cocktail for me- the 15 year rum one- and the friend had a nice port. This space was clean, loud-ish, nicely lit and furnished, full of business travelers (it was Thursday). Highly recommended.
Friday - made it to Orange! Had the Huevos Rancheros when I shoulda had the Chai French Toast. I don't understand the 'house potatoes', which I expected to be more breakfast-y (aka fried), but they're really just smashed red potatoes. Cool space, really nice waitress, veggie friendly. Got a take-away Turkey Club with bacon for friend. Very good, but chipotle mayo was just a touch too chipotle. Very, very good overall.
Friday night - The Violet Hour in Wicker Park. WOW, what a cocktail bar! Beautiful space, great, great drinks. One of the coolest bars ever. Could have stayed hours. Dinner was at People tapas bar. Waste of time, very inauthentic. Decent red sangria, but where are the tapas? No almonds, no chorizo, no serrano ham, no meatballs - you get my drift. OK space, lots of groups, OK food.
Saturday we tried dinner at Bin 36 in Near North - I was underwhelmed. Too commercial. We ordered the cheese plate and had a tough time cutting the night's selections with our butter knives. If you bill yourselves as a wine and cheese bar, you'd think...(sigh). Our waitress was unhappy, and showed it, when we left after one glass of wine each. Also, they played same album the whole time (more than 1 hour) we were there. Music counts, folks. We popped into Vermillion (pan-asian menu, looks new) around the block, but they were booked up. Any one been here? Finally, we found ourselves at Atwood Cafe. We had a nice drink at the bar - very decent cocktail and wine list - and had a nice little window seat for dinner. I had the soup of the day - veggie minestrone - which was rich and delicious. Dinner for me was salmon and disappointing. Friend had squash soup which was sweeter and more nutmeg-y than Custom House (not as good, but very enjoyable). She had the bone-in chicken breast with sweet potatoes and brussell sprouts, which was outstanding. I was stealing forkfulls from her plate the whole time.
One can certainly eat their way through this city. I already have a 'next time' list started. Thanks to everyone who made recommendations!
Thanks for the detailed write-up. Atwood to me is just ok, so I'm not surprised to hear that it was hit and miss. I'm also not too big a fan of Bin 36 either, but oh well.
As for Vermilion, give it a try the next time your in-town. I appreciate the creative Indian-Latin approach, and for the most part, the food is very well executed. I love the decor and the service has been outstanding on every one of my visits there.
You'll find lots of recommendations around the Palmer House Hilton in this topic:
Custom House is 5-6 blocks away and excellent. www.customhouse.cc
Regarding the other recommendations posted here...
I love Orange on Harrison for breakfast but it's a bit far from the Palmer House Hilton, 4-5 blocks. Atwood Cafe is a bit closer. Atwood is also good for lunch and dinner. www.atwoodcafe.com
Heaven on Seven is good; note that they don't open for breakfast till 8:30.
Bin 36 is a bit far; you can walk it, but there are lots of good places that are closer.
This might not be your cup of tea but one of my favorite Chicago-style places is Miller's Tap on Wabash between Monroe & Adams. It is open to the wee hours of the morning (4 or 5 am) and is not a meat-market type bar. More of a neighborhood bar and restaurant. They serve: steak, ribs, fish, club sandwiches etc. At least have one drink there and look at all of the old photos of famous folks. It's probably too old fashioned for you sweet young things but it's a bit of Chicago History. Just one suggestion.
I can't speak to the dinners at Bin 36, but it's a very nice place for wine and cheese plates and such. And it puts you right near the bars and restaurants in River North. Check Hubbard st. for places right around there. Of course, there's lots of other places/areas, but the prices are pretty good and it's not far from the Palmer House.
Don't know how far you want to branch out but about a mile away (quick cab ride) is a place called Mambo Grill. I went last month and I thought it was tasty, reasonably priced, and had a fun atmosphere. There's also a bar called The Emerald Loop which had a full/good-looking crowd for happy hour the last time I went. I'm sure that there are many other options than the ones I suggested but those are the ones I got! Good luck.
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Downtown Chicago is basically divided into halves. South of the Chicago River is the older part, The Loop, chiefly a business district now. Most shopping, hotels, and restaurants now are north of the river; the downtown there extends from the river to Oak Street. It's all walkable, otherwise taxis are everywhere. The Palmer House is in the old Loop. An interesting non-chain breakfast venue nearby would be Heaven on Seven on the 7th floor of an office building on Wabash near Washington. Being Cajun, it offers such breakfasts as omelets with Shrimp Creole sauce and pancakes with praline pecans. Mostly, though, you will be journeying to north of the river.
Is Heaven on Seven still there? I thought it moved uptown and became a tourist trap.
I would definitely recommend that you ladies check out the West Loop -- take a taxi over to Lake Street and look around. There are a ton of clubs and restaurants packed into a small area.
Starting off with breakfast, I highly recommend Orange on Harrison. It is located one block south of Congress on the corner of Dearborn. They have the most creative menu with the best service and my favorite breakfast foods (pan-seared oatmeal and chai tea french toast....yum) as well as orange flavored coffee served in carafes. There is also fantastic coffee and teas as Argo Tea on Randolph. It is right next to the oriental theater between state and dearborn. Rom is my other downtown favorite spot for coffee and breakfast type stuff. It is europeon style and located on south Franklin between Monroe and Madison.
For dinner, try The Gage on michigan avenue across from Millenium Park for english-type classy food. There is Oysy on south Michigan for Japanese, Cuatro on south Wabash for great great great Latin food (also a good brunch), and one of my favorite pub-type restaurants right under the el: exchequer, where they have AWESOME burgers, pizzas, ribs, pastas, etc. Everything and the service is awesome with a great atmosphere.
Enjoy your stay.