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Chicago Bars and Restaurants That Transcend Hotel Dining's Stigma

These hot spots are breaking the mold
February 8, 2016
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by Matt Kirouac

Let’s face it, hotels have a long history of tepid room service, ho-hum ingredients and breakfast buffets. It wasn’t until recently that chefs and foodies started regarding hotels as potential dining hotbeds, rather than spots settled for out of convenience. Nowadays, hotel restaurants and bars in Chicago are destinations of their own, innovating and enticing diners. Here are our top picks:

Nico Osteria:
When dining at Nico Osteria in the Thompson Hotel, you’d be forgiven for mistaking the Gold Coast locale for the Mediterranean Coast. The impossibly elegant restaurant hails from One Off Hospitality (Publican, Blackbird), and may be their most ambitious project to date. Serving high-end Italian seafood in a venue that transcends its hotel, this restaurant has even gone the extra mile to reimagine room service: its full menu is available to guests in their rooms upstairs, complete with wait staff. Squid-ink chitarra with octopus sugo, grilled swordfish with crispy bean salad and whole pan-seared Dover sole with pesto Trapanese are a few can’t-miss examples.

1015 N. Rush St.; 312-994-7100

Broken Shaker:
When one of the most revered craft-cocktail bars in the country set up shop in Chicago, collective jaws dropped in thirsty anticipation. And rightfully so, considering the marvelous ingenuity and creativity behind this cocktail brand. The Chicago outpost has a starkly different look and feel than its Miami sister, and — even though both are housed in funky-chic Freehand Hotels — is rich in local Midwestern flavor. There’s a Steakhouse Sour made with bordelaise sauce reduction, citrus, Averna, rum, egg whites and beef-infused angostura; the Oak and Rush, named for one of the ritziest intersections in the city, features sage–apple cider shrub, Sakura blossom, green tea, sherry and Absolut Elyx vodka; and there’s a charred pineapple tipple imagined by Ben Schiller of the nearby Berkshire Room.

19 E. Ohio St.; 312-940-3699

Perennial Virant:
It’s not many hotel restaurants that boast an entire room of preserves, pickles and jams — but Perennial Virant is far from the average. Located on the ground floor of the Hotel Lincoln, across from Lincoln Park, this stunner showcases the highly acclaimed handiwork of chef-partner Paul Virant. The chef has been revered for years at suburban Vie, and Chicagoans are pretty thankful we no longer need to hoof it on the Metra for a taste of Virant’s talent. Virant commands a rigorously seasonal, locally inspired restaurant with a menu full of his signature preserves and pickles. Think beef tartare with fermented plum aïoli; pheasant dumplings with pickled ramp relish; and roasted winter carrot salad with smoked apple butter vinaigrette.

1800 N. Lincoln Ave.; 312-981-7070

Beatrix:
At first glance, the menu at River North’s Aloft Hotel's Beatrix reads like a bit hodgepodge. (Perhaps this is just one of those trying-to-please-everybody hotel restaurants in a prettier-than-usual outfit?) But no, this refreshing concept from Lettuce Entertain You exceeds expectations with its eclectic menu of wholesome ingredients that toe the line between indulgent and healthful. The fact that it’s a unanimous crowd-pleaser is just icing on the cake. Or in Beatrix’s case, icing on the caramel pie. There’s a little bit of everything at this all-day concept, from a bounteous pastry case brimming with muffins and cookies to a substantial juice cocktail program to quinoa cake eggs Benedict.

519 N. Clark St.; 312-284-1377

Rural Society:
Steakhouses are commonplace in Chicago, so it takes something truly special to stand out from the fray. One step inside this Streeterville newcomer, an aptly rustic restaurant designed to look like an equestrian encampment, is all it’ll take to confirm just how special Rural Society is. Located inside the glistening Loews Hotel, it's an Argentine-accented steakhouse courtesy of chef Jose Garces. Garces really knows how to up the ante on hotel dining, with Mercat a la Planxa in the South Loop’s Blackstone Hotel as another example. For this newer venture, chef Cory Morris presides over a menu of South American specialties: empanadas stuffed with Sardo cheese, pickled smoked veal tongue with grape mustard, housemade blood sausage and Argentine pizzas laden with grilled artichokes and black olive. Then, of course, there’s all those wood-grilled steaks — many of which come from Argentina.

455 N. Park Dr.; 312-840-6605

 

Cindy’s:
The crown jewel of the hottest new hotel in Chicago, Cindy’s is a hotel restaurant and bar like no other. Poised on the 13th floor rooftop of Downtown’s Chicago Athletic Association hotel, a property which has become a red-hot destination in and of itself, Cindy’s boasts some of the best vistas from its glorious balcony along with a sunny, airy interior that lends the feel of a yacht. Somehow, the food and drink programs manage to impress just as much as the setting, thanks to executive chef Christian Ragano and “spirits guide” Nandini Khaund. Expect a novel take on American and European cuisines via dishes like burrata with lingonberries and pumpkin seeds; fried pheasant with corn flakes, braised leeks, housemade hot sauce and biscuits; and a ridiculously enormous milk-braised pork shank with caramel turnips, fig mostarda and Swiss chard. Cocktails are just as striking, from the rose petal–adorned We’ll Always Have Paris made with pistachio milk and date syrup to the Aegean Sea, a vegetal riff on a Negroni with pine sap and caper leaf.

12 S. Michigan Ave.; 312-792-3502

Sable Kitchen & Bar:
Over the past several years since its game-changing inception, Sable Kitchen & Bar has remained one of the coolest and most delicious hotel dining and drinking spots in Chicago. One of the original hotel hot spots in town, located on the ground floor of the Hotel Palomar, Sable set the bar for concepts to follow elsewhere. Today, it’s still as masterful as ever, thanks in large part to the seamless synergy between kitchen (chef Lawrence Letrero) and bar (head bartender John Stanton). The narrow, modern space, anchored by an elongated bar, is the perfect setting in which to savor lobster Rangoon, falafel sliders and adobo pork belly with garlic rice, along with bracing cocktails. The drink list changes often, keeping things fresh and dynamic with draws like Faulkner’s Table (rum, sweet potato, sage, port, lemon, angostura) and Sunsets and Dooryards (gin, raspberry, honey, cucumber, Cynar, lime, tiki bitters).  

505 N. State St.; 312-755-9704

Cafe des Architectes:
The formula sounds tired: upscale French restaurant, frilly plating, Gold Coast hotel. But look a little closer, and you’ll discover the restaurant at the Sofitel Hotel is anything but tired. With dexterous chef Greg Biggers at the helm, the French-leaning restaurant perfects a form rarely seen in Chicago. That is: accessibly fine dining in a hotel lobby. Available as a tasting menu or à la carte, contemporary creations include foie gras apple pie with duck-fat ice cream; mahi mahi with curry cauliflower sauce and roasted beets; and poached Maine lobster with celery root velouté​ and whey-braised pork belly. Need further proof? Cafe des Architectes runs a program called Chestnut Provisions where they make their own everything, from cheese to charcuterie

20 E. Chestnut St.; 312-324-4063

Drumbar:
One of the greatest surprises in terms of hotel bars, Drumbar carves out its niche from the 18th floor of the nondescript Raffaello Hotel. Tucked behind the Hancock Tower, this places feels like a bygone treasure preserved in time, complete with cramped elevators that are slightly nerve-racking to ride. But once you access the 18th-floor bar, you’ll be rewarded with some of the coolest, most destination-worthy cocktails in Chicago. The space is opulent, designed in such a way to give the interior the feel of a mansion parlor. It actually feels a little bit like one of the rooms from the board game Clue. Fortunately, the only things killer here are the drinks: the Hog Wild (bourbon, Ancho Reyes, artichoke amaro, maple soy) and the Final Alliance (Rittenhouse Rye, sweet vermouth, housemade root-beer syrup, bitters).

201 E. Delaware Pl.; 312-933-4805

Miss Ricky’s:
At once tongue-in-cheek, nostalgic and quirkily modern, Miss Ricky’s takes Americana to new levels. The vibrant restaurant comprises the ground floor of the Loop’s new Virgin Hotel, named after founder and all-around rich-person icon Richard Branson. This is the type of bustling, shiny spot you loved as a kid and yearn for as an adult. And Miss Ricky’s menus don’t disappoint, offering a tasteful mix of both classic and contemporary flavors. Try the tres leches French toast outfitted with roasted pineapple and bourbon-barrel-aged vanilla maple syrup. Or the smoked corned beef hash Benedict, dressed with horseradish hollandaise. Or the buttermilk fried chicken tenders with mustard aïoli and honey Sriracha sauce. You get the gist. 

203 N. Wabash Ave.; 312-940-4777

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