The stools at Dove’s Luncheonette (1545 N Damen Ave. Tel: 773-645-4060. www.doveschicago.com) in Wicker Park are crafted of a shiny, rich brown vinyl and gleam with newness. On a bustling weekday afternoon each one will be flattened by Midwestern butts—which are arguably more voluminous during the winter months. Dee Dee Warwick’s “A Fool for Love” is playing on a record player, not on the vintage Select-O-Matic 100 jukebox hiding in the corner, which works only about half of the time. Meanwhile, gratuitous wood paneled walls give the whole place a kind of 70s dive bar vibe and provides the requisite cue that we are deep in the heart of hipster country. But the real draw at this newly opened throwback diner from superstar chef Paul Kahan (Big Star, the Publican) is the menu whose Tex-Mex inspired standouts include smoked brisket with avocado, pico de gallo, chicarones and green chile vinaigrette rolled into a large flour tortilla, or chicken fried chicken drenched in chorizo verde gravy and topped with sweat peas and pearl onions. It is joints like this that remind the world why Chicago is everyone’s kind of town.
There is much to be excited about in Chicago these days. Yes, it’s still cold December through March (and sometimes November and April), yes the crime rate is higher than residents would like it to be (although way down overall when measured against previous decades), and yes the Cubs still suck (but does anybody really honestly care?). On the other hand, a spate of enchanting new public parks are slated for 2015 arrival (two of which are profiled below), neighborhoods like the West Loop, Fulton Market, Pilsen, and Logan Square that were quiet a mere decade ago are now chockablock with bars, restaurants, shops, and art galleries, and the city’s queer scene has gotten so big that Boystown on weekend summer nights rivals places like the French Quarter and Ybor City in terms of exuberant revelry.
Be on the lookout for many new buildings, public projects, and exciting cultural offerings from Chicago in the coming months, and come prepared for amazing food and libations
The beating heart of the city’s exclusive lakefront Gold Coast neighborhood is the “Viagra Triangle,” a pretty and oft-derided area formed by Chicago Avenue and Rush and State Streets and so named because its bars are conspicuously frequented by older men and the gold digging women who adore them. It is here that the Thompson Chicago (21 E Bellevue Place. Tel: 312-266-2100. www.thompsonhotels.com) opened to instant raves. Locally, the excitement is over Nico Osteria, the hotel’s seafood-influenced Italian restaurant whose floor-to-ceiling windows allow for a sun-drenched dining experience while also affording gorgeous people watching opportunities. The rooms meanwhile embody simple chic and city views while putting visitors just steps from the action of River North, the Mag Mile and the Loop.
If Richard Branson can’t expand his empire into outer space he’ll just bring it to Chicago. The city has been chosen to be the site of the first ever Virgin Hotel (203 N Wabash Ave. Tel: 855-946-6600, www.virginhotels.com) which opened mid-January and has thus far made good on Branson’s signature mix of whimsy and innovation including privacy doors that cordon off your room or “chamber,” minibars stocked with goodies sold at street prices, custom-designed adjustable beds, and a mobile app that allows guests to order room service, valet their car, live chat with a concierge and more. We’re equally excited to check out the Commons Club, where a social hour happens nightly, and a rooftop bar is coming in summer.
Soho House (113 N Green St. Tel: 312-521-8000. www.sohohousechicago.com), the exclusive private members club and hotel which famously turned away Samantha Jones in an episode of Sex and the City, has come to Chicago’s exploding West Loop neighborhood. Never mind that its exclusivity has earned the eye rolling of many a Chicagoan, its elegant, midcentury modern rooms are available to all and we’re downright in love with the hotel’s loft-like living room The Allis, a ground floor lounge and bar which is perfect for morning coffee and pastries, a mid-afternoon business meeting, or a postprandial cocktail.
For years there was a huge disconnect for queer visitors between downtown Chicago, where the bulk of the city’s best shopping and cultural attractions (and subsequently hotels) are, and Lakeview (aka Boystown) where all the gay nightlife is. The answer to that conundrum is the whimsical Hotel Lincoln (1816 N Clark St. Tel: 312-254-4700. www.jdvhotels.com), a compromising halfway point in Lincoln Park that allows easy access for LGBT tourists to both downtown and the North Side. The rooms are mod, mid-priced winners and its onsite drinking and dining options are great including Elaine’s Coffee Call, upscale Perennial Virant and the J. Parker Rooftop Bar whose views of the Lake are downright killer.
The Ace Hotel (www.acehotel.com), the ballyhooed chain of chic hipster-friendly accommodations whose current U.S. locations include Portland, Seattle, Palm Springs, New York and downtown L.A. is finally coming to Chicago’s bourgeoning Fulton Market neighborhood (aka the Meat-Packing District), but until it arrives (no timeline as of yet), there is the ACME Hotel Company (15 E Ohio St. Tel: 312-894-0800. www.acmehotelcompany.com), a playful and wallet-friendly hostelry in River North that is steps away from Michigan Avenue and other downtown attractions and whose guest rooms scream simple, affordable, and vibrant whimsy. We’re big fans of the hotel’s onsite retro cocktail lounge the Berkshire Room.
The Langham (330 N Wabash Ave. Tel: 312-923-9988. www.chicago.langhamhotels.com) deserves its current Trip Advisor top spot. Situated in the iconic Ludwig Mies van der Rohe-designed IBM Building (aka AMA Plaza), this luxury lodging is unquestionably gorgeous. The guest rooms are divine but it’s worth a visit just to hang out in the sun drenched lobby whose floor-to-ceiling windows offer gorgeous city views and where afternoon tea and an evening ice cream sundae social happen daily. It’s a serene spot.
We would love nothing more than for Boystown to embrace its inner foodie, but until that happens we’ll have to settle for affordable eats aimed at satiating the gym conscious masses. Meat (3339 N Halsted St. Tel: 773-871-2682. www.eatatmeat.com) opened in 2014 as a carnivore-focused restaurant. The cocktail program is a lineup of legit handcrafted winners while most of the carnivorous items arrive dangling on enticing skewers. The bacon-wrapped chicken with jalepenos and cream cheese is the bomb, although there are some clunkers on the menu such as the dry and unappealing stuffed mushroom caps. (In summer, be sure to snag a seat at one of the table/swing sets out front and enjoy the people watching.)
There is in fact a legitimate upscale option in the gayborhood right now. Wood (3335 N Halsted St. Tel: 773-935-9663. www.woodchicago.com) opened in summer of 2012 as a small plates, wood oven-focused alternative to the bland fare served elsewhere and has once again received a Michelin Bib Gourmand for the second year running. Yes they serve brunch and yes it’s called Morning Wood.
Gorgeous, crammed, and unpretentious Parachute (3500 N Elston Ave. Tel: 773-654-1460. www.parachuterestaurant.com) is serving up the most inspired Korean-American food in all the city and it speaks to the maturation of the Avondale neighborhood as a food destination. The baked potato bing bread with bacon, scallion, and sour cream butter is the comfort food of our dreams. It’s the inspired mains, however, like the Berkshire pork Secreto with savoy cabbage, chewy sweet potatoes and nam phrik, or the low cooked chicken with spaghetti squash, matsutaki, satay sauce, and shrimp salt, that we’re convinced is responsible for the often unbearable queues. (Don’t miss Parachute’s foamy and tangy take on the Pisco Sour).
Be sure and hit up Randolph Street for a meal while visiting Chicago. This “restaurant row” sprang to life in the early nineties only to lose its cool a decade later. It has since been resurrected by former Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard who opened her enormously popular Girl and the Goat and follow up retro diner Little Goat, and now boasts numerous stellar dining options like Au Cheval and Maude’s. The newest kids on the block are restaurateur Brendan Sodikoff’s finger lickin’ good honky tonk barbecue joint Green Street Smoked Meats (112 N Green St. Tel: 312-754-0431. www.greenstreetmeats.com) and its subterranean next-door neighbor High Five Ramen (112 N Green St. Tel: 312-754-0431. www.highfiveramen.com).