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a week in Chicago, bar & coffee questions

Klary Apr 14, 2011 03:00 AM

Hi all,
My husband and I will be in Chicago for a week, our first time. Thanks to the advice and reviews on this board, I have lots of eating and drinking adventures already planned (from cocktails at the Violet Hour to dinner at Topolobampo).

We're staying in an apartment on West Illinois and I would love some recs in the neighborhood for 2 specific things we like to do: have coffee and tea in a nice coffeeplace in the morning, where there might be newspapers lying around, where people are reading or working or just grabbing something on their way to work,

and, a bar, not too fancy or hip, just a relaxed place with maybe some interesting beers, where we could have a drink before ging out to dinner or after we get back from dinner for a nightcap.


445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

Violet Hour
1247 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

  1. h
    hoppy2468 Apr 14, 2011 06:29 AM

    Can you be a bit more location specific...a cross street to illinois would be a help!!

    10 Replies
    1. re: hoppy2468
      Klary Apr 14, 2011 06:47 AM

      Ah sorry. I'm from Amsterdam, where a street is just a street, and even though this is my 6th visit to the US, I forget about these things..
      Looks like I'm near N Dearborn Street!

      1. re: Klary
        nsxtasy Apr 14, 2011 06:59 AM

        Closest place: Starbucks, 430 N. Clark St. (two blocks southwest of Illinois and Dearborn) - www.starbucks.com EDIT: Also see hoppy's recommendation of XOCO below.

        Best coffee: Intelligentsia Coffee, 53 E. Randolph St. (1 km south) - This is our local coffee roaster and their coffee is great! www.intelligentsiacoffee.com

        Best breads/pastries: Fox & Obel, 401 E. Illinois St. (1 km east) - This is our local gourmet grocer; they have a cafe in the rear where you can read newspapers and eat/drink, everything from a cup of coffee and pastry to a complete meal. Wonderful croissants, cinnamon swirl rolls, brioche, etc. www.fox-obel.com

        1. re: nsxtasy
          zin1953 May 14, 2011 09:15 AM

          It's a debatable point, but I prefer the coffees from Metropolis to Intelligentsia . . . but it's "six of one, half-a-dozen of the other."

          1. re: zin1953
            chicgail May 14, 2011 10:57 AM

            I think they're both superb local coffees and both are far superior to Starbucks. I don't know why many people seem to prefer Intelligentsia over Metropolis.

            1. re: chicgail
              danimalarkey May 15, 2011 09:54 AM

              I'd also throw in Dark Matter, though I believe it's only available at Star Lounge of Chicago.

              I think Intelligentsia gets the most recognition because they've been around the longest and have brick & mortar locations in easily accessible locations. I agree, though, that there's no real front-runner when it comes to Chicago's coffee roasters.

              1. re: danimalarkey
                zin1953 May 15, 2011 10:14 AM

                Also, one shouldn't overlook the fact that Intelligentsia has a more "national" following . . . Besides its roasting facility in Chicago and its three brick-and-mortar locations (Millenium Park, Monadnock, and Broadway), Intelligentsia also has three (Silverlake, Venice, and Pasadena) locations in the greater Los Angeles area (not to mention its LA coffee roasting facility), and a New York City "training lab" -- Intelligentsia has aggressively gone after a national audience, both through direct-to-consumer internet sales of coffee, and its wholesale sales-to-café/coffee house business. Also, Intelligentsia purchased a leading California micro-roaster, Ecco Caffè in Sonoma . . .

                In contrast, Metropolis has some direct-to-consumer sales (and some wholesale business) via its website, but still has only the West Granville café . . .

        2. re: Klary
          hoppy2468 Apr 14, 2011 07:04 AM

          Rick Bayless's Xoco is a block away. have never been for breakfast but imagine it's busy. As for bars, I really don't know where to start. There are lots and lots and most I really wouldn't call relaxing. Perhaps others can help. Have a great visit!

          449 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

          1. re: hoppy2468
            nsxtasy Apr 14, 2011 07:07 AM

            XOCO is a great recommendation for a place where you can sit and relax over a cup of coffee. Yes you may have to wait in line to order but it shouldn't be too bad. You can get Mexican breads/pastries (e.g. churros) there, and Mexican hot chocolate as well. www.rickbayless.com/restaurants/xoco....

            1. re: nsxtasy
              trvlcrzy May 13, 2011 06:35 PM

              Went to Xoco recently...Wait was ridiculously long. Service was the worst among all the Chicago restaurants we tried (we also hit Girl and the Goat and Publican which were excellent). It was a big letdown for us at Xoco. Food was also not as imaginative as I thought it would be. The churros and chocolate were both too sweet.

              449 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

              Girl and the Goat
              809 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60661

              1. re: trvlcrzy
                nsxtasy May 16, 2011 04:50 PM

                Wait a minute. The service was bad at a place where you wait in a line to order, and better at restaurants where you are seated and a waiter/waitress takes your order? And you ordered two dishes known for their sweetness and they were too sweet? What a surprise! XOCO was recommended for your ability to sit and relax over a cup of coffee, not for a complete meal. Within that context, it's fine. But it's not comparable to places designed for complete meals. (And FWIW, I've eaten at the Publican and the Girl and the Goat, and found that both places have some excellent dishes, and some that are not so excellent, particularly the desserts which are dreadful at both restaurants.)

      2. Klary Apr 19, 2011 05:04 AM

        we're here, and having a great time! so far we've had coffee at Intelligentsia (great coffee indeed!), cocktails and small plates at Sable (just the thing after flying in from Europe and being awake for more than 20 hours), and fantastic burgers at Kuma's corner.
        Dinners planned at The Publican and Topolobampo, and also checking out Fox & Obel today.

        On Thursday or Friday we plan to go for cocktails at The Violet Hour (plan to get there early to avoid a long wait), any suggestions for a low-budget casual place nearby to get a bite to eat afterwards?

        445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

        Violet Hour
        1247 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

        2 Replies
        1. re: Klary
          nsxtasy Apr 19, 2011 05:15 AM

          >> On Thursday or Friday we plan to go for cocktails at The Violet Hour (plan to get there early to avoid a long wait), any suggestions for a low-budget casual place nearby to get a bite to eat afterwards?

          Big Star is across the street. Also within a block are Penny's Noodle Shop and Mia Francesca - not my favorites, but close by and decent. You can also walk up to the corner of Milwaukee for Bin Wine Cafe, which is a wine bar where the food is pretty good and not terribly pricey.

          1. re: nsxtasy
            chicgail Apr 19, 2011 06:38 AM

            Penny's Noddle Shop is very cheap and was once good, but now the food is horrible. Do not eat there. Francesa's Forno (not Mia Francesca) is totally acceptable, as is Bin.

            You may also like Hot Chocolate, about 2 blocks north on Damen, or Taxim, a noisy but upscale Greek restaurant around the corner on Milwaukee or People Lounge, a Spanish Tapas place, right next to Taxim.

            Check out their websites to see if the offerings and prices work for your budget.

            Hot Chocolate
            1747 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

            Bin Wine Cafe
            1559 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

            Francesca's Forno
            1576 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL 60647

            1560 N Milwaukee Ave Ste 1, Chicago, IL 60622

            1558 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

        2. Klary Apr 21, 2011 07:25 AM

          thanks all, our week in Chicago is going great, thanks to the advice given here by all the wonderful Chowhounders! I will write a full report when the week is over.

          Now, one more question.. we're going to a bluegrass concert at the Kinetic Playground (1113 West Lawrence Ave) on Friday. I wanted to go for beers and snacks at the Goose Island Brewery before that, but now I've been reading some not so good reports about the food there online. What do you think? Is it worth a trip? or else, is there a casual beer & burger type place you would recommend near the Kinetic? Thanks!

          3 Replies
          1. re: Klary
            danimalarkey Apr 21, 2011 08:27 AM

            Regarding Goose Island, note that there are two brewpubs, one at 1800 N. Clybourn Ave. and another at 3535 N. Clark St. (the brewery where they produce beer for national/international distribution and retail sale is off Fulton Ave. and is generally not open to the public). The Clybourn location is where it all started 23 years ago and I strongly recommend it over the Clark St. location (they have a larger selection of beer and there is less Wrigley Field-related traffic and craziness).

            I make it to Goose 1-2 times a week and am a big fan. The menu is fine, I think - if anything, the chefs are a little more ambitious than their skills seem to support. Items like burgers and other sandwiches are good, though, and most of their food is sourced locally (their pork is actually fed on spent grains from the beer-making process, so there's whole 'cycle of life' thing going on). I really like their version of a Cuban sandwich and their lamb burger is good, too.

            The beer, though, is pretty spectacular and is well worth the trip. You can find lower ABV English bitters (rare these days in the US where high ABV hop-bombs seem to rule) and great examples of Belgians. Consider getting a flight (or two) - I think it's 4 pours for $8. Currently, they also have bottles of some barrel-aged wild saisons, Lolita and Madame Rose, and are very good and very different than most other beers made by a domestic brewer (also exceptionally difficult to find). They also had an Alt made by another local brewery, Metropolitan, that I strongly recommend, too. I would also recommend their Midway IPA, Sofie and Citrine Bombshell.

            1. re: danimalarkey
              danimalarkey Apr 21, 2011 09:04 AM

              Also, if you want to try some more local beer, you might want to try Revolution Brewing. In the Logan Square neighborhood, it's been open a year and is really (in my mind) the only other place that comes close to Goose Island as far as variety and quality of their beer. I think the food is okay there, not great (but I wouldn't call it bad, either) - having said that, I saw a note this morning announcing a new menu starting today, so maybe things will be better (or worse - but I'll be optimistic!). Revolution is easy to get to via the blue line and is not too far from The Whistler, one of the other top-cocktail bars in the city. Revolution and The Whistler can get very, very crowded, though, and neither accepts reservations.

              Revolution Brewing
              2323 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

              1. re: danimalarkey
                Klary Apr 21, 2011 04:23 PM

                thanks danimalarkey, I think we're going! I do love those beer samplings you can get at American brewpubs. Will report back!

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