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Millennium Park’s New Lounge: Kid-free and People-free; Plus, Five Outdoor Bars to Visit Before Summer Wraps

As with the produce department at the Jewel nearest my house and the gym around the corner where the old treadmills inexplicably change speeds on their own, I find myself at The Plaza at Park Grill—you know, the outdoor bar in the same Millennium Park spot where ice skaters will twirl in a few short months—several times each summer, just because it’s there…

The Lounge at The Plaza at Park Grill
Alone, in the spotlight: Thursday night at The Lounge at The Plaza at Park Grill
 

As with the produce department at the Jewel nearest my house and the gym around the corner where the old treadmills inexplicably change speeds on their own, I find myself at The Plaza at Park Grill—you know, the outdoor bar in the same Millennium Park spot where ice skaters will twirl in a few short months—several times each summer, just because it’s there.

Where else are you going to predrink outside within stumbling distance of Lollapalooza? Or take your visiting Nashville friends who want to bask in the sun while doing some of the best tourist-watching Chicago has to offer?

Nowhere, that’s where. The drink list is generic and the bar stools are a totally awkward height, but The Plaza serves alcohol, it’s in Millennium Park, and that’s that.

My interest was piqued earlier this month when I read Urban Daddy’s description of a newly lounge-ified area on the south end of the plaza as a swanky “kid-free zone.” I’ve never noticed many tots bellied up to The Plaza’s bar in the first place—have you?

So last night, when my friends Jeff and Liz wanted to go for a cocktail somewhere in the vicinity, I suggested we make like the childless adults we are and try the expansively named The Lounge at The Plaza at Park Grill.

It was a gorgeous night. Crowds filled the Pritzker Pavilion’s great lawn for a jazz concert, and drinkers in The Plaza’s original bar area looked thrilled to be doing anything at all in 73-degree weather. But the tented lounge, where we propped ourselves in a cushy couch-and-chairs configuration, felt like a place where the party was over.

“So what’s the deal?” Jeff asked. “Is this a wedding tent or something?

“No, it’s a kid-free zone,” I said. “And, apparently, a people-free zone.”

A few swank-loving souls had been cocktailing in the center of the tent when we arrived, but by the time our drinks were delivered in plastic cups around 7:30 p.m., we were the only occupants of the sprawling, sparsely furnished lounge—save for intermittent visits by our freshly tattooed waitress, who explained that her fondness for jellyfish had recently led her to invest in a full ocean-themed sleeve on one arm.

“Do a lot of people request seats in the kid-free zone?” I asked her.

“Well, if people try to bring their kids in here we can’t really say anything,” she told me. “But usually no one does.”

Jeff and I sipped serviceable vodka sodas, while Liz shielded her eyes from the glare of a spotlight hung in the middle of the tent and worked her way through what she thought was a nonalcoholic pink grapefruit lemonade. But when the check arrived, confusion ensued.

“Seven dollars for lemonade?” she gaped.

“Did it have vodka in it?” I asked.

She sniffed the empty cup. “I didn’t think so.” She decided it must have been a light pour and shrugged, laying down her credit card. (I later checked the menu and found a Belvedere pink grapefruit cocktail for $9, making the $7 charge for whatever Liz drank even more of a mystery.)

It was kind of relaxing, lounging there alone on such a prized bit of real estate. But as we gathered our things and walked through the main bar on our way out, we heard music and laughter and ice clinking—and there wasn’t a crying baby in sight.

“I think these people are having more fun,” Jeff said.

Feeling unfulfilled by outdoor experience number 1, I hopped on the El and headed north to meet The Creative Director at Resi’s, one of my all-time favorite alfresco drinking spots. In these dwindling days of summer, I’m vowing to spend as much time at the following five bars as possible:

Resi’s Bierstube (2034 W. Irving Park Rd.; 773-472-1749): A tree has been growing in the middle of this North Center patio so long, it looks fused to the concrete—and it makes this German beer garden the hidden gem it is.

Happy Village: The Ukrainian Village dive is famous for its ping-pong tables inside and a backyard that feels like a family reunion.

Gene’s Sausage Shop: The gourmet grocery added a rooftop beer and wine garden this summer, officially making it Lincoln Square’s most delightful one-stop shop.

Sidetrack: Boystown’s best spot for cruising—or ignoring the cruisers—is Sidetrack’s vacation-esque rooftop aerie.

Big Star: There’s a reason this is Wicker Park’s longest wait for an outdoor table. Once you finally snag a seat, you’ll be so entertained by the hipster parade you’ll never want to leave.

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