No one’s been able to come up with an adequate name for them—barstaurants? restobars?—but these restaurantlounge hybrids have reached a critical mass. Their tantalizing promise of good cocktails, beers, and food is impossible to ignore. But are they any good? We ate and drank at ten spots that have opened in the past year to find out.
1749 N. Damen Ave.; 773-486-2473
SCHTICK Owners of Webster’s Wine Bar try their hand with Bucktown trendoids. SCENE Rustic-industrial chic LIQUIDS Small-batch craft beers; wines by the glass; full bar SOLIDS Shareable small plates; larger dishes such as grilled sardines and braised rabbit VERDICT Interesting drinks; bright, affordable food. Stick to salads, entrées, and flatbreads.
BLU SUSHI LOUNGE
1710 Orrington Ave., Evanston; 847-491-9220
SCHTICK Sushi bar downstairs, sleek Eastern lounge upstairs SCENE A hip haven for E-town adults, with sweeping benches and Chihulyesque light fixtures LIQUIDS Extensive saké/wine lists; Asian cocktails with ingredients like aloe juice and Sapporo beer SOLIDS Beautiful small plates; sushi; and maki VERDICT Playful drinks; tasty rolls such as “Ocean Drive": tuna, yellowtail, and avocado
1840 W. North Ave.; 773-342-1840
SCHTICK “Luxe Miami Beach
atmosphere” SCENE Mirrors, cream-colored padded walls. Outdoor seating draws the young and lovely. LIQUIDS Specialty cocktails (the “Henri II” is Tanqueray, blood orange purée, and ginger ale); wine and minimal beer SOLIDS Elegant small plates include a freeform vege-table crêpe; full dinner menu VERDICT Strong, intriguing drinks; satisfying food. Go for the updated Waldorf salad with Roaring Forties blue cheese, candied walnuts, and yogurt dressing.
THE DRAWING ROOM
937 N. Rush St.; 312-255-0022
SCHTICK Drinks are mixed tableside. Enjoy the show and learn a few tips. SCENE Swanky and subdued: perfect for Gold Coasters looking for intimacy LIQUIDS Prohibition-era cocktails (Bellinis, Manhattans) and topnotch creations get a lift from house-brandied maraschinos and perfectly square ice cubes. SOLIDS Upscale small plates—verjus-braised pork belly or purple sweet potato ravioli—conceived by chef Shawn McClain (Spring, Green Zebra) VERDICT Drinks are pricey ($15) but worth it; food is excellent.
444 N. LaSalle St.; 312-222-6200
SCHTICK British pub/multilevel adult playground SCENE Loud music and plasma screens meet vintage photos and tiled walls. LIQUIDS Novel cocktails and Anglo standards like the Pimm’s cup; fun wines; U.K. brews SOLIDS Gussied-up pub fare: ale mussels with red curry; full dinner menu VERDICT Painful waits and noise levels cloud decent drinks and even better food, such as the lamb chops with tomato-ginger chutney.
EXPOSURE TAPAS RESTAURANT
1315 S. Wabash Ave.; 312-662-1082
SCHTICK Mediterranean-inspired small plates in a posh cocktail setting SCENE Red padded walls, low couches, and crystal chandeliers LIQUIDS Caipirinhas, margaritas, and mojitos; 40-plus wines by the glass or bottle SOLIDS Raw bar; hot and cold small plates; salads; and skewers VERDICT Fun if pricey cocktails. Oysters, 99 cents each on Wednesdays, are excellent; goat cheese gnocchi are leaden.
4840 N. Broadway; 773-506-3100
SCHTICK Twenties-inspired fare in Capone’s old neighborhood SCENE A 40-foot art deco bar, wraparound booths, and vintage posters recall Uptown’s glitzy past. LIQUIDS Craft beers; classic and new cocktails—"The Gatsby” combines Plymouth gin, cucumber purée, and white cranberry juice. SOLIDS Comfort food with a twist; supper club classics VERDICT Weak cocktails, shaky food. We did like the house-made corn dogs and fried chicken, though.
Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago, 401 N. Wabash Ave.; 312-588-8100
SCHTICK Obscenely expensive sushi with a slick view of the Chicago River SCENE Businessmen loosen ties and wallets with afterwork gin and tonics. LIQUIDS Overpriced wines by the glass and cocktails such as the “High Voltage,” with Patrón añejo and limoncello SOLIDS Tasty small plates such as sushi rolls and a canapé of unagi mousse on thin crisps VERDICT Interesting fare, unbearably slow service. Save your money.
SWIRL WINE BAR
111 W. Hubbard St.; 312-828-9000
SCHTICK Exactly what its name evokes—plus global small plates SCENE Live jazz or Latin music serenades couples in the small, exposed-brick-lined space. LIQUIDS About 25 worldly wines by the glass, quartino, and bottle SOLIDS Mediterranean with Latin touches—salads, cheeses, empanadas, and pizzas VERDICT Music too loud, wine too pricey. Food varies: Empanadas are OK but wild-mushroom pizza had button mushrooms and no truffle oil as advertised.
THE VIOLET HOUR
1520 N. Damen Ave.; 773-252-1500
SCHTICK Impossibly cool cocktail lounge meant to evoke a Prohibition-era speakeasy (the door is unmarked) SCENE Alice in Wonderland décor—blue-and-white walls, velvet drapes, and cartoonish high-backed chairs—seduces hipsters in the know. Of course, by now the whole Chicago area’s in the know. LIQUIDS Wildly creative cocktails (the “Dark & Stormy” is Cruzan Black Strap rum, Bugal Añejo, fresh lime juice, and house-made ginger syrup) resurrect the golden age of drinking. SOLIDS Fanciful finger food and assorted gourmet sandwiches. Try the broiled duck meatballs with green apple mostarda. VERDICT The cocktail is king, and every single one is stunning. Intricate food is a tasty side note.
Photography: Chris Lake