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Concert trip

My wife and I are coming to town next month for a concert at Wrigley Field. We have another couple coming with us, and they are pretty indifferent on food. They would probably go to mid- to upper-level chains on their own.

I want to put together a plan with Chicago-only places that are very laid back and low-key. On the day of the show, I am planning to go to Lou Malnottis before the show, and I've heard Toots Bar is good for post-show drinks. We want to go to Headquarters Beercade one night, but other than that, I am up in the air as far as which places would fit what we are looking for.

I've looked at the following places, any opinions on which might be overshooting my mark? Anything I am missing? Any bar recommendations would be great too.

Little Goat, Barn and Company, Three Aces, GT Fish and Oyster, Publican, Purple Pig, Big Star, Butcher and the Burger, Parson's.

We're staying at The Palmer House, so from what I can see, that area is not too great for the vibe I am looking for. I know we will have to use the El to get around

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  1. Also, we have three mornings and I know brunches are supposed to be stellar in the area. Jam? Little Goat? Others?

    1 Reply
    1. re: jmikes

      Jam is indeed outstanding; it's about 5 miles northwest of the Loop at the Logan Square stop on the CTA Blue Line. Other excellent brunch choices include M. Henrietta (at the Granville stop on the CTA Red Line), Southport Grocery (near the Southport stop on the Brown Line and the Addison stop on the Red Line), and Bongo Room (South Loop location at the Roosevelt stop on the Red Line). None of these accept reservations, and you can expect to wait 30-60 minutes to be seated on weekends between 9:30 and 1:00, no waits on weekdays.

    2. I think these are all very good options. They are definitely "very laid back and low-key", unless the waits at the no-reservation places are uncomfortably long. You have obviously done your research well, including finding the recently-opened Parson's. If anything, you might be missing more variety. These tend to lean toward comfort food, meat, and upscale bar food. You could eat lighter at Big Star and GT compared to the others, but it still feels like a heavy itinerary to me. Do you like ethnic foods? Chicago has good options for Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Middle Eastern (from several countries), Greek, and Mexican (although Big Star features tacos, it's really an American Honky Tonk), among other cuisines.

      Also, I believe you mean "Toons Bar & Grill", a few blocks from Wrigley Field at 3857 N. Southport. If there is a "Toots Bar" in Chicago I suspect it would be a very different vibe!

      10 Replies
      1. re: GourmetWednesday

        Thanks for the kind words. Part of my reason for keeping it simple is not knowing how far the other couple will "explore." I know they love Mongolian BBQ, but not sure where they go otherwise.

        Everyone loves Mexican though, and I am a huge Greek fan and would be willing to stretch them there. Best recommendations?

        Any ideas for drinking? I heard Rossi's might be the closest option we have, but once you hit the El it's about the same to most places, give or take, correct?

        1. re: jmikes

          I'll add a couple of recommendations near Wrigley. Deleece is an neighborhood-type bistro serving outstanding contemporary American food in a casual, low-key environment, and it's only half a mile (ten minutes walking) from Wrigley. As for your Mexican question, Mixteco Grill is a good choice, and BYO too; it's a little over a mile from Wrigley so it's a long walk or a short ride by cab or the #22 CTA bus on Clark St.

          I'd still keep deep-dish pizza in the itinerary, but do it another night, not on the concert night. Pizano's on Madison is only a couple of blocks from your hotel and similar to Malnati's in quality and style, whereas the nearest locations of Malnati's are all about 15 minutes walk away.

          Greek Town is a mile west of the hotel, and good choices include Santorini, Greek Islands, and the Parthenon. Personally, I find that those places are rather old-fashioned, but if you enjoy Greek food, they're a good choice, as well as inexpensive and geographically convenient.

          I recommend making advance reservations wherever they're available. And you might want to skip popular places that don't accept them; if you go to Purple Pig with its 2+ hours waits to be seated, there's a huge risk it's not going to go over well.

          1. re: nsxtasy

            Are there any good options in the Navy Pier area?

            1. re: jmikes

              The easy answer would be to say "No". While I once read Navy Pier is the most visited attraction in Chicago, and there are a few areas of adult interest (e.g. the Shakespeare theater and the stained glass window collection, and I suppose the Ferris Wheel appeals to all ages), I think Navy Pier plays better to children and I rarely choose to go. With that said, there is a beer garden at the far east end of the Pier, and that can make for an enjoyable hour or two. You might also enjoy Harry Caray's Tavern, for bar food, drinks, and some baseball nostalgia. The seafood restaurant, Riva, has beautiful window views, especially during fireworks displays, but IMO the food is no better and probably higher-priced than what one could fine in almost any North American city. Otherwise your options are mostly themed chains, like Bubba Gump's and Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville.

              1. re: GourmetWednesday

                I agree. But if you're at Navy Pier, a 15-20 minute walk (or a short ride on the #65 or #29 CTA bus) will take you to good places around the Mag Mile, including Purple Pig, Sable, Coco Pazzo Café, David Burke's Primehouse, Bandera, etc.

                Also, Fox & Obel is close to Navy Pier. It's our premier gourmet food store, with terrific prepared foods, meats, fish, etc. Their baked goods - particularly the breads, more so than pastries - are still among the best anywhere. I'm sitting here eating one of their yummy cinnamon swirl rolls as I type!

                1. re: nsxtasy

                  Any words on Caffe Oliva?

                  I guess my biggest concern lays here: what places do I need/want reservations for on Thursday and Saturday nights? I'm running into the age-old problem of wanting to stay casual, but not standing in the cattle call line.

                  Thanks for all the advice, btw. If nothing else, my Foursquare is loaded for quick reference. Lol

                  1. re: jmikes

                    >> what places do I need/want reservations for on Thursday and Saturday nights? I'm running into the age-old problem of wanting to stay casual, but not standing in the cattle call line.

                    Many of our best casual places accept reservations, including places you've mentioned (GT Fish, Publican), places others have mentioned (Deleece, Mixteco Grill, Park Grill), and places not yet mentioned (Sable, Mercat a la Planxa, Mexique). So make a reservation in advance, and you can stay casual without having to get stuck standing around for an hour or two.

                    I recommend making a reservation for any place you plan to go that accepts them. After all, there's no cost involved in doing so, and you can always cancel/change your reservation if your plans change.

                    As far as whether you *need* a reservation at places that accept them, it depends on time of day and day of the week. On a Thursday at 5:30 pm, you can walk in most places (not all, but most) without a reservation and get seated immediately. Try that trick on a Saturday at 7:30 and you may find yourself walking away from one restaurant after another when you find that waits are upwards of an hour, sometimes two.

                    1. re: jmikes

                      Just went to Oliva for brunch today, right down the block from me. If you must head to Navy Pier I would pick this spot, great place to grab a beer and people watch.

            2. re: jmikes

              As far as drinks, there are plenty of options in the Loop and River North. Rossi's is a very casual, laid back diver bar and can be fun. Closer to your hotel, I'd suggest Miller's Pub - very laid back with lots of old school charm (they also serve food). Monk's Pub and Clark Street Ale House might also work well.

              If Headquarters sounds appealing, you might want to aim for Emporium Arcarde Bar, too. The games aren't free but they have a lot of them. Located in Wicker Park, it's not too far from Big Star. Piece is a brewpub that serves great, New Haven-style pizza along with really good beer (they can get very crowded at peak times, though). Along Division Street, between Ashland Ave. and Western Ave., there are many options and you could walk along and see what's appealing. I like Bangers & Lace (lots of beer and sausages), Smoke Daddy (decent BBQ, but lots of outdoor seating), Takito (upscale tacos with great drinks) and SmallBar (they're a little over-priced but the food is well made and the drink list is solid).

              If you're looking for burgers, I'm not sure that Butcher & the Burger is worth visiting. I prefer Bad Apple in the North Center neighborhood. Lots of great options for creative burgers (and beer).

              1. re: danimalarkey

                I keep getting the two beercades mixed up, but we are going to the one that just added a large pinball area.

                Bad Apple sounds really tasty, and Monk's is right in the wheelhouse of places I want. My biggest fear was talking up a place, then walking in to see lots of tie and jackets. Or a 2 hour wait.

          2. For low-key bars by your hotel, check out Miller's Pub on Wabash. They have a surprisingly good beer list. It is old school and low-key. If it is a nice night out, I'd also go to the Plaza/Park Grill. The food is passable - your basic bar food - but the view is really cool especially when the it gets dark and the city lights up.

            http://www.parkgrillchicago.com/plaza

            http://www.millerspub.com/

            3 Replies
            1. re: lbs

              Miller's looks interesting. I like the idea for a good view at Plaza/Park. Is it easy on the dress code? I know a lot of rooftop bars can be higher-end or club-scene places.

              1. re: jmikes

                The Plaza at Park Grill isn't a rooftop. It's an outdoor patio at ground level, at the entrance to Millennium Park. Casual attire is fine.

            2. Thanks for all the recommendations everyone.

              I think we are going to do Big Star and Emporium the first night, with maybe Millers or Monks for food after. Little Goat for brunch and pizza (Malnattis or Pizanos) before the show, with Toons or Rossi's after.

              Southport Grocery for brunch on Saturday, expecting a wait. I just found out the other couple is leaving early on Saturday, so my wife and I get free reign Saturday night after probably spending the afternoon with the Pier or touristy stuff. Probably going to GT Fish that night.

              2 Replies
              1. re: jmikes

                >> my wife and I get free reign Saturday night after probably spending the afternoon with the Pier or touristy stuff. Probably going to GT Fish that night.

                Make a reservation!

              2. That is for all the guidance everyone! Our times ended up being thrown way off by the concert (due to weather it went until 2 a.m.). We did Bangers & Lace, it was fantastic. Nice server, some great malt vinegar soaked chips. I had the seafood sausage po' boy. Great aioli on it, very fresh.

                Little Goat was great classic diner food. Great club sandwich here, traded half for half a BLT (the day's special). The thick bacon on the BLT was terrific. We are from North Carolina, and my wife gets shrimp and grits everywhere. She said the Little Goat version held up to her high standards.

                Lou Malnattis was, well, you all probably know. Fresh sauce, great crust, and we had the pizza chips appetizer with basically a cup of pure minced roasted garlic. Top notch.

                Our last night we did the Purple Pig. Well worth the 90 minute wait. We had never tried marrow before, but we are converts now! The pigs ear, pork shoulder and broccoli were also excellent. I'm understating how great this place was.

                1. I see this comes too late - but I just found this link - on the best Chicago area bunches! I am new to the area and I really enjoyed reading this article (and eating my way through it).
                  http://www.timeoutchicago.com/restaur...