Zodiac Cafe and Lounge balances a constellation of themed martinis with a Mediterranean-inspired menu of sandwiches, salads, and small plates. Diners design flights of cheese and olives, and chefs stuff grass-fed burger patties with a rotating selection of ingredients. Pints from the craft-beer menu complement edibles, as do 12 martinis that re-imagine each astrological sign as a concoction of colorful spirits. Muted earth tones and wood accents anchor both dining room and lounge to terra firma, and starburst light fixtures and an astrological chart grant insight into Zeus's interior-decorating scheme. After the sun sets on the patio, wander inside to check out the schedule of karaoke, open-mic performances, and sets from local house DJs.
Inside of a charming century-old brick building overlooking Crown Point’s bustling square, head chef Carl Lindskog stays busy crafting combinations of Italian and Japanese edibles culled form the mindparts of experienced edibles. His feasts of grilled seafood, focaccia, steak and pasta grace cloth-clad tables downstairs in Amoré Ristorante, where the vintage bar dating from Chicago's 1933 World's Fair enshrines a heel print from 1930s dancer Sally Rand. Upstairs, Lindskog’s delectable sushi rolls, tempura, and dumplings pair with 109 Lounge’s 34 specialty martinis. Live music frequently fills the air during the evening hours, complementing the chef’s creations with a laid-back attitude that permits smoking and encourages playing hooky from other, less interesting dinners.
It’s a difficult task to pull off—taking a hodgepodge of recycled odds and ends and creating something entirely new. Simone’s Bar, however, has proven up to the challenge. An architectural potpourri of artifacts salvaged from around the city, the Pilsen bar is best known for the retired pinball machines that line its walls. These ancient tables lend a retro vibe to the bar area, where microbrews and cocktails take the place of pins on a recycled bowling lane. Other idiosyncratic elements include chemistry tables from nearby Westinghouse High School, conveyer belts from Chicago’s Fanny May Candies factory, and a chandelier molded from bicycle chains and rocking chairs. Combined with the solar panels on the rooftop, these repurposed knickknacks have earned Simone’s status as a three-star certified green restaurant. Simone’s décor may come from all corners of the city, but its food is influenced more by the bar’s immediate surroundings. Empanadas and a grilled cheese sandwich with Chihuahua cheese nod to Pilsen’s proud Mexican heritage, as do burgers topped with jalapenos and guacamole. The drink menu also has a local slant, highlighting Chicago brews and craft cocktails that would feel right at home in one of the galleries on nearby Halsted Street.
Though he relies primarily on local ingredients when crafting his Vietnamese cuisine, executive chef Kay Bui structures his menu around a principle that may seem foreign to American diners. He serves small plates in the context of a communal meal, as is common practice in Vietnam. Together, guests can explore the exotic tastes of charbroiled pork wrapped in rice paper, sautéed asparagus doused in a spicy brown sauce, or shrimp and crabmeat stir-fried with vermicelli noodles and mixed vegetables. Bartenders complement the kitchen’s output with house-infused spirits and an extensive wine list that highlights organic and biodynamic reds and whites. At Sawtooth Restaurant, meals unfold in one of three places: a spacious dining room notable for its earthy tones and clean lines, a lounge with custom booths and modular box tables, or a garden patio surrounded by exposed brick and patrolled by Indochinese tigers.
Only a true icon can name their venue Legends and get away with it. Luckily, famed blues artist Buddy Guy fits the bill. Known as ?the crowned king of Chicago?s electric blues scene,? Buddy has more than 50 years in music notched into his guitar strap, as well as six Grammy Awards and a coveted spot in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Inside his beloved blues club, Guy can be seen on stage every January during sold out shows, easing into the playful stomp of Muddy Waters? ?Hoochie Coochie Man? and his soulful, woozy solo in ?Stone Crazy.? The performance space holds fans? intrigue with other performances throughout the year and has hosted such renowned musicians as John Mayer, ZZ Top, David Bowie, and Eric Clapton. Seven nights per week, live blues music drifts through the air while guests dine on southern Cajun soul food, from blackened bourbon shrimp to cat fish po? boys and chicken and sausage jambalaya. Music fans can sneak away from their meals to fawn over blues memorabilia such as original artwork, Grammys awards, and guitars signed by B.B. King, Carols Santana, and the late Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Legend has it that on December 5, 1933—the day that Prohibition ended—the Zebra Lounge showed Chicago its stripes for the first time. Fittingly, one must pass under the Canterbury Courts’ black-and-white awning to get to this intimate piano bar, where mustard and mauve-painted walls give way to a hung zebra pelt, framed pictures, and zebra-striped lamps. Even the bartenders match the décor, since they often sport black pants and white socks as they sling drinks and play armchair therapist. In-the-know patrons arrive early to sink into leather booths as pianists tap out songs by Frank Sinatra and Neil Diamond, among others. Later on in the night, the cozy, pint-sized joint fills up with a diverse crowd that leaves the pretension at the door and ranges from suit-sporting old-timers to reveling college students. From behind the mirror-lined bar, the staff pours martinis, fills wooden bowls with zesty snack mix, and turns away predatory lions lured by the bar’s sign. Zebra Lounge is many things; as much a chameleon as it is a zebra. It’s a hideaway to those that want it to be one, and place to have great conversation for those looking for one.