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Memorial Day / Guys' Weekend

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Howdy, Chowhound!

I'm going to be in Chicago with a couple friends from college over Memorial Day Weekend. I'm looking for suggestions for some cool stuff to do while we're there... restaurants, shows, tours, bars, clubs, etc. We'll be staying a couple blocks west of Michigan Ave (corner of E Superior & Wabash) and will be using public transportation to get around the city.

So far, we are planning on doing Giordanno's at some point and are considering making the trek out to Hot Doug's. I know that we are going to want to do dinner at the best steakhouse we can find, so any recommendations are welcome... Chicago Cut & Joe's are the two big ones that keep coming up in my searches. The Aviary has caught my eye for after-dinner drinks one night. I also think it would be cool to do a comedy/improv show. Vertigo Sky Lounge will be close by, so we may do that one night. Purple Pig looks like it could be a good lunch idea.

Anything else you guys could recommend? This trip is going to primarily be a 1-year graduation reunion and a chance for everybody to unwind from work.

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  1. > . I'm looking for suggestions for some cool stuff to do while we're there... restaurants, shows, tours, bars, clubs, etc.

    Restaurants and bars yes, usually the Chow.com moderators frown on non-food-and-drink discussions.

    Hot Doug's often takes major holidays like Memorial Day off. I would DEFINITELY check their web site beforehand. They probably won't be open.

    Also note that the Aviary is only open Tuesday through Saturday.

    2 Replies
    1. re: kathryn

      Thanks for the heads up regarding Hot Doug's! I'd be pretty upset if we got all the way out there and it was closed! Sorry for asking about entertainment... just ignore that part if it's going to get people in trouble!

      1. re: mmckinnerney

        They always post closures on their site ahead of time... and they take a lot of major holidays off, as well as random time off (like 1/2 of February if I recall correctly). It actually took me a few visits to get there because I kept getting burned by random closures.

    2. >> I know that we are going to want to do dinner at the best steakhouse we can find, so any recommendations are welcome...

      You can't go wrong with David Burke's Primehouse or with Chicago Cut Steakhouse. Both dry-age their beef and each is considered by many to be the best steakhouse in the city.

      Giordano's is an interesting pick for deep-dish. Don't get me wrong, I love it! But they serve double-crust "stuffed" pizza, rather than the single-crust "pizza in the pan" popularized by Uno/Due, Pizano's, and Lou Malnati's. If you've never had deep-dish, you might want to start with one of those (Pizano's is close to your hotel). But Giordano's is good too!

      Beware, Purple Pig doesn't take reservations and has long waits to be seated even at lunchtime, although not quite as bad as at dinner (1 hour vs 2 hours). To avoid waits, go on the early side (they open at 11:30) or on the late side (waits wind down after 1:30).

      You'll also be close to some of our other really good restaurants for small plates: Sable (contemporary American), GT Fish & Oyster (seafood), Quartino (Italian), and Café Iberico (tapas). Sable, GT Fish, and Quartino all take reservations in advance; Café Iberico doesn't.

      I'd also hit one of our places for contemporary Mexican cuisine: Frontera Grill (you can try for one of their handful of phone reservations, otherwise arrive before they open the doors to avoid long waits), or Salpicon or Mexique (which accept reservations).

      9 Replies
      1. re: nsxtasy

        I've been to Giordano's, Lou Malnati's, and Gino's East. I love both Giordano's and Lou's, but the group seems more interested in Giordano's mainly because of the sheer scale of the pizzas (and mountains of cheese) I think. We may also try to make it by Lou's if it fits in the schedule. I'll definitely look into some of the other small plate options you mentioned, thanks for the recommendations! As far as Mexican food goes, we're all from the Houston area... unless there is a particular option that is a life-changer, we'll probably stick to stuff we can't get back home.

        1. re: mmckinnerney

          >> As far as Mexican food goes, we're all from the Houston area... unless there is a particular option that is a life-changer, we'll probably stick to stuff we can't get back home.

          The creative contemporary Mexican food found in Chicago is entirely different from what you find in most American cities, and Houston is not one of the few exceptions. To get a better idea of the difference from conventional Mexican food (or Tex-Mex), take a look at the sample menus on some of the restaurants' websites:

          Topolobampo and Frontera Grill - www.rickbayless.com/restaurants
          Mexique - www.mexiquechicago.com
          Salpicon - www.salpicon.com
          Mixteco Grill - www.mixtecogrill.com

          1. re: nsxtasy

            Thanks for the suggestions!

            I think we are doing Chicago Cut for sure one night. We will have 2 other dinners and are wanting to do one higher-end place on the Saturday night (doesn't necessarily have to be formal) and something more relaxed on Sunday night for our last dinner. Unfortunately, Alinea is completely booked and Next is going with a Vegan menu while we're there (which I'm sure will be great, just not my first pick for dinner with the guys). What would you suggest for the two dinners?

            We'll probably stick to some of the small plate options that you mentioned or gastropubs that GourmetWednesday recommended for lunch & breakfast. What would be your top picks for 2-3 days of lunch and breakfast?

            Those Mexican food options look good, what would be your first pick and would it be a better dinner or lunch option?

            1. re: mmckinnerney

              >> I think we are doing Chicago Cut for sure one night. We will have 2 other dinners and are wanting to do one higher-end place on the Saturday night (doesn't necessarily have to be formal) and something more relaxed on Sunday night for our last dinner. Unfortunately, Alinea is completely booked and Next is going with a Vegan menu while we're there (which I'm sure will be great, just not my first pick for dinner with the guys). What would you suggest for the two dinners?

              There's higher-end, and there's higher-end. :) And I think you understand the distinction when you mention that it doesn't necessarily have to be formal. Among the formal restaurants, with lengthy tasting menus and big waitstaffs, where jackets are required for gentlemen and the bottom line, inclusive, is typically $200+ per person, my top three picks, in order, would be Alinea, Grace, and TRU. As for availability, you know about Alinea, Opentable shows nothing for Grace (you could always try by phone, you never know), and TRU shows 5:45 and 9:00 for a party of 2 but nothing in between.

              Among the slightly less formal higher-end restaurants, where menus are typically a la carte (some with a tasting option), business casual attire predominates, and the total is closer to $120-150/pp, my top picks are Naha and North Pond. Naha is most like a true high-end experience, but with a slightly lower price tag and dress code; North Pond has its exquisite location in the park. Both have delicious food from winners of the James Beard Award for Best Chef - Great Lakes (Carrie Nahabedian in 2008, Bruce Sherman in 2012, respectively). For Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, Opentable is wide open for Naha; North Pond has 6:30 or earlier, and 8:45 or later.

              For your more relaxed dinner on Sunday night, I would still consider some of those small plates places I mentioned above, particularly Sable or GT Fish. I didn't mention Mercat a la Planxa, perhaps our best tapas restaurant, because it's a bit further from your hotel (about a mile away, at the southeast corner of the Loop); it too is worthy of consideration. You might also consider Mexique (see more below). You could also go Italian, perhaps at Piccolo Sogno or Piccolo Sogno Due or Café Spiaggia (the latter two are a short walk from your hotel).

              >> We'll probably stick to some of the small plate options that you mentioned or gastropubs that GourmetWednesday recommended for lunch & breakfast. What would be your top picks for 2-3 days of lunch and breakfast?

              The small plates places I previously mentioned are certainly an option for lunch. Another option is to use lunch to grab some of our local specials, such as deep-dish pizza or Italian beef. You can get deep-dish at the original Uno or Due near your hotel; other excellent nearby options for deep-dish include Pizano's on State, and Lou Malnati's on Wells. At Portillo's on Ontario (near your hotel), you can get excellent versions of two of our local specialties, Italian beef sandwiches and Chicago-style hot dogs.

              For breakfast, Chicago has a huge selection of breakfast-focused restaurants. Our very best ones are located away from River North where you're staying. Jam, near the Logan Square stop on the CTA Blue Line, has the creativity you'd find at the high-end temples of haute cuisine. M. Henrietta, at the Granville station on the CTA Red Line, has lots of great stuff. Bongo Room, at the 12th/Roosevelt/Wabash station on the CTA Red, Orange, and Green Lines has creative pancakes (e.g. pretzel pancakes with white chocolate caramel sauce). Southport Grocery, near the Southport station on the CTA Brown Line, has bread pudding pancakes and adult pop-tarts. If you want to keep it close to your hotel, consider the Original Pancake House on East Bellevue, Meli Café on Wells, or Yolk on Wells.

              None of these breakfast places accept reservations; in general, you will find immediate seating on weekdays, whereas weekends generally have waits to be seated of 30-60 minutes between 9:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Not a huge wait, too be sure, but here are two other places that serve brunch on Sundays where you can make a reservation (including on Opentable) and not have to wait. One is North Pond, the lovely restaurant in the park, which I mentioned above. The second is Shaw's Crab House, which does a really terrific all-you-can-eat buffet, and the quality is top notch. My favorites there include their thick-cut caramelized bacon, crab benedicts, crab cakes, shrimp cocktail, king crab bites (sometimes served hot, usually also on the cold buffet), crème brulee (best in the city), and chocolate pot de crème. Not cheap, at $48, but much of it is dinner type fare, and if you enjoy seafood, you'll probably love it.

              >> Those Mexican food options look good, what would be your first pick and would it be a better dinner or lunch option?

              Good question! My first pick would be Topolobampo or Frontera Grill, *if* you can get a reservation or don't mind eating early. Topolobampo occupies one dining room inside Frontera Grill and has a separate menu. Both are open for lunch Tuesdays through Fridays, and both are closed Sundays and Mondays. I like Topolobampo as a lunch option, because it's easier to get reservations (dinner reservations fill up months in advance) and because their lunch prices are similar to Frontera's (Topolobampo is much more expensive than Frontera for dinner). Topolobampo accepts reservations on Opentable as well as by phone. Frontera Grill accepts only a handful of reservations and only over the phone, leaving much of the dining room available for walk-in customers. Waiting times to be seated at Frontera Grill are usually 90-120 minutes or more (even for their Saturday brunch) but can be avoided by arriving 20-30 minutes before they open the doors, if you don't mind eating early. Oh, and they're a short walk from your hotel.

              Otherwise - if you can't get a reservation, or if you're thinking of your Sunday dinner - my second choice in terms of food would be Mexique, for lunch, dinner, or weekend brunch. Salpicon is also very good, and walking distance from your hotel.

              1. re: nsxtasy

                For your other high-end dinner, I would strongly recommend El Ideas or Elizabeth, if you can get a reservation. Both have a young and fun vibe with very talented and engaging young chefs who interact freely with guests. They are each a distance from your hotel, but worth a special journey IMO. El Ideas is BYOB, so plan accordingly. Elizabeth is three different communal tables (I believe 8 per table), and each table enjoys one of three tasting menus. "Tickets" are purchased in advance, a la Next and Alinea. (Edited to add: El Ideas in not realistically accessible via public transit for you. I would recommend a cab there, and staff can arrange a cab or Town Car home, or give you a discount code if you haven't yet signed up for the Uber app. Elizabeth is convenient via Brown Line train toward "Kimball" and exiting at "Western", then about a 2-block walk.)

                To me, a couple of the more "formal" places can come across as "stuffy" or "pretentious" (not to everyone and not at all times), or places I'd be more inclined to take your parents while you go to El. The two I mentioned are much more casual in environment while still outstanding in food and service.

                1. re: GourmetWednesday

                  I was not terribly impressed with El Ideas. Although I felt that the courses were all extremely creative and fun and nothing was unpleasant, OTOH very little was particularly delicious or memorable. It's also quite expensive, $160 plus tip, and that doesn't include alcohol (of course) or the cost of the cabs or car service. The service, while friendly, is ultra-casual and does not convey unobtrusive luxury/pampering the way it does in similarly-priced high-end restaurants. If you're looking for the amazingly delicious food and high level of service typically associated with higher-end restaurants, you'll find a higher level of both elsewhere. And if you're looking for a more casual environment - which sounds like your objective for Sunday dinner rather than Saturday - there are plenty of places where you can get an equally enjoyable dinner for a lot less money.

                  1. re: GourmetWednesday

                    El Ideas looks pretty difficult to get to. Elizabeth looks very interesting, but I'm going to have to save that for another time.

                  2. re: nsxtasy

                    You sold me on North Pond... I would do TRU, but the availability isn't very good. Also, doing something on the lower side of "high-end" like North Pond, lets us do something similar for Sunday. Naha also looked good, but I want a tasting menu and I don't see one on their website.

                    Shaw's Sunday Brunch. Done.

                    I've been to Portillo's... a few times... maybe more than a few. Love it. Lunch before we fly back will either be Portillo's or Al's.

                    I think Salpicon looks like a good option for the Sunday dinner. Topolobampo is booked and Mexique would be more difficult to get to.

                    1. re: mmckinnerney

                      Sounds great!

                      Incidentally, Topolobampo is closed on Sundays. Opentable doesn't make a distinction between restaurants that are closed and those that are fully booked; both show as having no availability.

                      If the only thing holding you back from Mexique is the transportation, it's easy to get to from your hotel via the #66 CTA bus, which runs along Chicago Avenue (on which the restaurant is located, and which is one block north of your hotel).

          2. I'd consider some gastropubs or craft cocktail spots such as Longman & Eagle, Owen & Engine, The Publican, Billy Sunday, Scofflaw, or Barrelhouse Flat. These suggestions are scattered all around town, and some are easier to get to by public transit than others. Someone will likely post about not caring for some of my choices, but overall they are quite popular, and I think they would be great for a group of young guys. While I love The Aviary, I think your group might prefer The Office, the "speakeasy" below The Aviary, if you are able to gain entry. I recommend an advance e-mail request to reservations@theaviary.com, and put something to the effect of "Office Request for May 16" or whatever date in the subject line.

            5 Replies
            1. re: GourmetWednesday

              The Office was the #1 place on my list! Everything I've read has basically said it is impossible to get into though... I even read one article (forget where) that it's invitation-only now. I'll definitely try the email request route though! Out of the gastropubs you listed, what would you recommend as the top 1 or 2? There's no way we'll have time to hit all of those, but I think we will probably do at least 1 (I was actually already tossing around the Longman & Eagle idea).

              1. re: mmckinnerney

                Of the ones I mentioned earlier, the Publican and Owen & Engine have the advantage of taking reservations. O&E is near nothing you'd otherwise want to see, unless you choose to spend your time in Chicago at a movie theater. Publican offers Saturday and Sunday brunch, so that might work for you. Be aware that restaurants in Chicago can't serve alcohol until 11am Sunday, so plan your time wisely if that matters. They have private tables and a communal table, so if you have a preference for a private table, mention it when making your res. The place is known for being noisy, but I'm assuming that's not a problem for your group.

                This article might be of help in describing some differences in options (Sheffield's and Hopleaf are two I forgot about, easily accessible by train, and in fun neighborhoods, Wrigleyville and Andersonville respectively, away from the downtown/Mag Mile tourist hub. While the food at Sheffield's is fine not great, IMO, but it was one of the earlier places to offer craft beers, and their patio is a lot of fun for 20-somethings): http://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Mag...

                Also, when it gets nice, people here love spending time outside, so you might be interested in some patio spots. Here are links to al fresco options: http://chicago.metromix.com/stories/1...

                1. re: GourmetWednesday

                  >> Be aware that restaurants in Chicago can't serve alcohol until 11am Sunday

                  Not exactly. Restaurants can start serving alcohol at 10 a.m. on Sundays, although bars and liquor stores can't serve/sell alcohol until 11 a.m. Sundays. Reference: City of Chicago website - www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/b...

                  1. re: nsxtasy

                    Either this is a new change in the law or restaurants make their own rules. I say this because I had a rather disappointing Easter Brunch at Mercat a la Planxa in 2012 with a 10:00am reservation and we were about done with our meal when we were allowed to order drinks. Their Bloody Mary bar was actually one of our reasons for choosing it and we didn't partake. My best advice to a guest, and isn't that what this board is about, would be to check individual restaurant policies if this is an important factor for you.

                    1. re: GourmetWednesday

                      It's not a recent change in the law, because a snapshot of the same web page from March 2010 has the same wording: http://web.archive.org/web/2010032221...

                      It's possible that any particular restaurant that doesn't serve alcohol before 11 a.m. on Sundays may not be aware of what the law actually is. (I've just exchanged e-mails with the GM at Mercat, who confirmed that they once mistakenly thought it was 11 a.m. but have since found out otherwise, and changed their policy since the time of your brunch last year.)

                      I think your advice about checking with the restaurant if this is a concern is excellent, although I think such advice *is* what this board is about. :)

            2. Thanks for the recommendations everybody!

              1. I would opt for Lou M.'s, Pizza Uno/Duo well before Giordanno's-especially the Giordanno's on Rush.

                1. So far, the plan is as follows:

                  Friday
                  Lunch: Giordano's or Lou Malnati's
                  Dinner: Reservation at Chicago Cut Steakhouse
                  Night: The Office (if we can get in) or The Signature Lounge as a backup plan.

                  Saturday
                  Breakfast: Bongo Room... depending on what time everybody gets up.
                  Lunch: Tentative Reservation at Mercat a la Planxa... though we may decide to cancel for Longman & Eagle.
                  Dinner: Reservation at North Pond
                  Night: Considering Vertigo Sky Lounge or Sheffield's, depending on what kind of feel we want.

                  Sunday
                  Brunch: Shaw's Crab House
                  Dinner: Reservation at Salpicon (Topolobampo was booked and Mexique doesn't seem easy to get to)

                  Monday
                  Lunch: Al's Beef or Portillo's

                  If anybody knows how to procure an invitation to The Office, I would be very appreciative! I have emailed reservations@theaviary.com, but never heard back.

                  I am open for critique, what would you change/add/skip?

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: mmckinnerney

                    I'm not a Chicagoan, but I was just there last week. I would squeeze Purple Pig in somewhere - if you go between 2-4 you'll get in, no problem, and it was our favorite place - we went twice in one week.

                    I'll have to respectfully disagree with the extremely helpful nxtasy (forgive me!) - four of us (two Chicagoans) were let down by Topolobampo - it just wasn't that earth shattering. so hopefully you'll enjoy Salpicon.

                    we loved Al's for the beef sandwiches and Malnati's for the deep dish. have fun!

                    1. re: mariacarmen

                      I'm actually going to be in town a couple days earlier than the other guys to see some family, so I may do Purple Pig then.

                      Looking forward to the Italian Beef & Deep Dish!

                    2. re: mmckinnerney

                      Email the Aviary again?

                      Sometimes they don't respond promptly, it's odd.

                      Topolobampo is closed Sundays. All the Bayless places are. Topolobampo only serves lunch on Tuesday through Friday, anyway.

                      1. re: kathryn

                        I'll try them again. Any tips on getting in? Just ask about availability or do I need to convince them it's a special occasion?

                        1. re: mmckinnerney

                          Sometimes the Aviary folks don't respond until just before your requested date. Try their Facebook, too.

                      2. re: mmckinnerney

                        Sounds perfect!

                        If the only thing holding you back from Mexique is the transportation, it's easy to get to from your hotel via the #66 CTA bus, which runs along Chicago Avenue (on which the restaurant is located, and which is one block north of your hotel).

                        Also, I strongly recommend making a reservation for your brunch at Shaw's Crab House. Otherwise, you may have to wait. Or worse; last year I had brunch at their location in Schaumburg when they were full from advance reservations, and were turning away customers without any.

                        1. re: nsxtasy

                          Salpicon over Mexique was partly because of transportation and partly because Salpicon offers a 7-course tasting menu... Mexique's website doesn't list a tasting menu that I see.

                          Thanks for the tip on Shaw's, just made an 11:30am reservation.