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Mar 17, 2011 09:30 AM

Hot Spot or Lounge Recommendations in Chicago

My best friend and I won tickets to the Oprah show for an April 8th taping. We both have never been to Chicago, and are looking for a good place to grab drinks and maybe some small plates on Friday evening. We are arriving later in the evening on Thursday, and may not be able to make it out that night...but who knows? We are 25 and have a lot of energy.

We haven't booked a hotel yet, but are planning on staying close to the Harpo Studios. We are both from Southern California, enjoy and appreciate great drinks and a fun atmosphere. We aren't crazy about clubs or severely crowded places, and are willing to take a cab.

Any reccomendations would be appreciated, thanks!

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  1. First, to orient you... Chicago's historical and commercial (office buildings) downtown is called the Loop, and is roughly a one-mile square bounded on three sides by the river and the lake. Harpo Studios is in an area called the West Loop, about a mile west of the Loop. That area has lots of restaurants - some of the best include Red Light for pan-Asian, La Sardine for French bistro, Carnivale for Latin fusion, and Blackbird for contemporary American - but no hotels in the immediate area, at least not AFAIK. There are some hotels and restaurants in the Loop itself, and many more of both in the area just north of the Loop near North Michigan Avenue (the "Magnificent Mile"). Some of the best small plates and drinking places include Mercat a la Planxa near the southeast corner of the Loop for tapas, Sable in River North (just north of the river) for contemporary American and artisanal cocktails, and Quartino in River North for Italian small plates. All of these accept reservations on

    1. You're my kind of girl! Sounds just like when my girlfriends and I travel and want to have great meals and cocktails. I'm not a fan of a too loud club.

      As nsxtasy mentions, most hotels are in the loop, so you'll likely end up staying there. Here are a few recommendations, so close to the loop, others farther afield. I highly recommend that you look into taking the el/buses as our public transit system is easy to navigate and will save you some cash.

      Sable in the Hotel Palomar has great drinks and it's right in the loop area. Fun, inventive and great food, too.

      I haven't been, but I've been hearing all about Maude's Liquor Bar for food and drink. In fact, it was just reviewed in Time Out. Everything I'm hearing is positive. It's not my BF's scene, so I'll be hitting it with my girlfriends. Located in the West Loop area.

      I adore The Publican which is also in the West Loop. The focus is on pork, seafood and beer here. It's community style seating and get a little loud at times, but I enjoy the boisterous atmosphere. The mussels here are the best I've had in the city. Great Belgian beer list. It's one of my fave places! I haven't been for Sunday brunch, but want too.

      For drinks, consider a few places:
      The Bar at the Peninsula Hotel. It's a lovely bar -- dark and cozy and great drinks.

      For a touristy thing, bypass paying to go to the viewing deck of the John Hancock and just go to the Signature Room Bar. You'll get a decent cocktail, but the view will be spectacular.

      Violet Hour is a "speakeasy" type bar in Bucktown/Wicker Pack. Very easily accessed by the El, as it's just a few doors south of the Damen Blue Line stop. No markings on the door and no sign. Dark and very crowded as the night goes on. I prefer to go as soon as they open at 6 p.m. and get a seat at the bar. All artisan cocktails and mixers. They make their own bitters, juices, tonics & tinctures. It's a cool experience. I highly recommend it for a pre-dinner cocktail. They have tasty snacks, too!

      A bit off the beaten track is Bar Deville in the Ukrainian Village pretty much directly west of the loop, you'll need a cab here. This is a small, cash only bar. Looks like a dive, but with great artisan cocktails. Not quite the scene that the Violet Hour is. Although, I've only been during the middle of the week and on a Sunday night and it was pretty quiet.

      The Wit is the new(ish) Doubletree Hotel in Chicago and the rooftop bar is pretty great. Lovely views of the city and right in the loop.

      C-Vu at the Affinia Hotel is also a rooftop bar right in the loop. Fun and cozy.

      If you're arriving Thursday night late, I highly recommend that you check out The Purple Pig for a late dinner/snack and drinks. The kitchen is open until 12 and the food is stellar. Small plates with a Med influence. Great wines by the glass and reasonably priced bottles. Also a good option for a lunch. They do not take reservations and it's community seating. I recommend it for "off" time periods -- late or early dinner or lunch is best.

      All of these have websites and are worth looking into. Have a great visit. It'll still be cool here, but you should have great weather!

      Violet Hour
      1247 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

      3 Replies
      1. re: geg5150

        Wow, thank you so much for all the recs! I will definitely check out the websites for these places. I think will The Purple Pig sounds great for Thursday night, as I am sure we will be starving once we get off the plane.

        Violet Hour sounds right up our alley, as we enjoy the cocktails at speakeasy bars in LA and San Diego. We will try to get there early to ensure a seat at the bar. Then I think we will try to make our way to The Wit or C-Vu, so we can take in the spectacular city at nighttime.

        Thank you again! And if you ever need recs in LA or SD, we are your girls!

        1. re: gator28

          just a couple other drink suggestions- if you're in river north- try Pops- it's a champagne bar and a lot of fun and in the gold coast- The Drawing Room has incredible cocktails. They'll even make them tableside when it isn't too crowded.

          The Drawing Room
          937 N Rush St, Chicago, IL 60611

        2. re: geg5150

          >> most hotels are in the loop, so you'll likely end up staying there.

          >> Sable in the Hotel Palomar has great drinks and it's right in the loop area.

          Most people consider the Loop to be only the area south and east of the Chicago River, while the term "downtown Chicago" is often applied to a much larger area including neighborhoods adjacent to the Loop. Most of the hotels are north of the river, although there are some in the Loop as well. The area north of the river and west of North Michigan Avenue is called River North, and that's where Sable is.

        3. I have only been to Chicago once and stayed in the Sofitel. Had a great lounge experience there. I may be naive, but have been to other lounges in other cities.