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Jun 29, 2011 12:04 PM

Dining and nightlife recommendations for downtown Chicago?

We've been to Chicago several times and are a early 30's professional couple looking to check out some new, happening restaurants that have a lively crowd and possible after-dinner scene. We don't mind spending for a nice evening out. Also any new or happening bar/lounge suggestions would be appreciated. We will be in town Sat-Tues.

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  1. If you don't mind a short cab/L ride, I'd suggest heading to Logan Square. Longman & Eagle is very lively, has a very good cocktail/beer/wine list, solid food that might be a touch on the high side for what you get, price-wise. L&E does not accept reservations. Down the street is The Whistler - a cocktail destination every bit as worthy as other, better-known spots in the city like Violet Hour, Sable and Drawing Room (to name a few). The Whistler often has live music (of a wide variety - you might check out their calendar online), a large back patio and can definitely get crowded. No kitchen, but they don't mind if you bring food in.

    Another favorite combination of mine is Big Star and then The Violet Hour in Wicker Park. Big Star's menu is limited to tacos, tostada's and a Sonoran hotdog (more or less) but they are very, very tasty. Drinks rely on tequila/mezcal or whiskey but are still really well-balanced and very much worth the (relatively) low price of $7. They dont' accept reservations, but it's not too hard to get bar seating. They also have a huge front patio, allowing some of the best people-watching in the city. Big Star is also cash only. The Violet Hour is pretty tame, by comparison, though they have a full bar (and some food). Even if it's not quite as innovating as it once was, drinks are still creative and interesting. Quiet room, though, since no one gets in unless there's a seat for him/her.

    Girl & the Goat is closer to downtown and is no doubt booked solid for the long weekend. You can get there when they open (4:30, I think?) and avoid a long wait.

    The Publican is certainly lively and might have reservations available. Excellent brasserie meets farm-to-table style food with one of the best beer lists in the city. Note that most of the seating is communal (though tables outside are not; some tables inside are not, too) - you may/may not like that. Afterwards, you can head down Fulton Market for drinks at The Aviary, the cocktail bar version of Alinea. It's a pretty quiet, subdued bar (similar to The Violet Hour) and the drinks can add up quickly. Still, they are really innovative and worth trying, at least once.

    Other places that sound like they may fit your needs could include Maude's Liquor Bar, Gilt, Nacional 27 and Sunda. I don't think the food is necessarily the star at these places, but atmosphere-wise, they may hit pretty close to what you're looking for as far as atmosphere/crowds.

    1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

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

    Nacional 27
    325 W. Huron, Chicago, IL 60610

    Violet Hour
    1247 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

    2 Replies
    1. re: danimalarkey

      We were actually at The Aviary last night from 9ish to after midnight, and it was definitely not as quiet as the Violet Hour. In fact, it seemed pretty loud at that hour. We were also there at 6pm and it was much quieter then as the room was not full until about 7pm. Just note that they will be open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, but are closed Monday and Tuesday.

      Violet Hour
      1247 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

      1. re: kathryn

        Eh, even when I was at The Aviary post-9pm, I would not have called it loud - I may have misspoken by calling it 'quiet'. Still, jut like The Violet Hour, you don't get in unless you have a table or high-top. Big contrast to most bars in the city where they just pack people in.

        Violet Hour
        1247 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

    2. Sable is my top recommendation for what you're asking. The contemporary American food from Chef Heather Terhune is outstanding, and they also offer amazing artisanal cocktails. The atmosphere is festive and hip, and the decor is ultra-contemporary, with an open kitchen.

      Piccolo Sogno is a new restaurant offering contemporary Italian cuisine, and it too is outstanding. The atmosphere is lively in a bistro setting. They have a lovely outdoor patio with seating (and they enclose it when the weather doesn't cooperate).

      Mexique is relatively new and offers some amazing provincial Mexican cuisine with French influences. There too the atmosphere is lively bistro-ish, where hip people go for a nice evening out with great food.

      Another great choice is Mercat a la Planxa, for great tapas in a festive nightclub-ish setting. Most of us consider it our best tapas restaurant.

      Nacional 27 (Latin fusion - ) and Sunda (pan Asian - ) are mentioned above and I think those are good recommendations too - and don't let the food be undersold, it's very good at both places. For Latin fusion, I'd throw Carnivale into the mix too.

      All of these accept reservations in advance, including on Opentable, so you're not stuck waiting forever. I generally avoid places that don't accept reservations, because I don't like waiting around for a table for 90 minutes or more. But if you are considering going to such places and you'd like to know what the typical waits are (and when to go to avoid them), I recommend taking a look at the photoessay that the Tribune did on our most crowded spots:

      1 Reply
      1. re: nsxtasy

        Thank you kindly for all the recommendations!