At the Zagat-rated Mez? Tapas Lounge, executive chef Antonio Lopez laces flavorful small plates with international flair by incorporating ingredients and influences from across the globe. Colorful portraits beam down from exposed-brick walls as servers transport Caribbean fish tacos, Asian saut?ed prawns, and traditional Spanish tapas such as bacon-wrapped dates and ceviche to waiting tables. Sangria, made in-house from top-shelf liquors, quenches thirsts without the stress of fermenting your own grape juice in a pocket-sized oak barrel.
Michael Morton, son of Chicago steakhouse legend Arnie Morton, is the driving force behind N9NE Steakhouse, a restaurant serving up traditional prime-aged beef and seafood worthy of a Michelin recommendation. New York–style sirloins and bone-in filets share menu space with organic irish salmon and the impressive crustacea platter—a mélange of crab legs, lobster, shrimp, and a trio of bivalves atop mounds of shaved ice. The bar menu, on the other hand, offers more casual nibbles, such as pairs of mini burgers, tacos, and pulled pork sliders for $10 a pop. N9NE's Chicago location shares some of its Vegas-style swank with its sister restaurant in the Palms Casino Resort, making it a frequent hangout for sports stars and other celebs. President Obama held one of his 2012 fundraiser dinners here, where supporters dined on juicy morsels of steak.
Continually lauded by various publications including Chicago magazine, 694 Wine & Spirits thrusts sophisticated bar fare and modestly produced libations into the willing fists of its patrons. Panini sandwiches whose fillings are limited to three high-quality components join a score of artisan cheeses and cured meats on a minimalist bar menu, and carefully picked vino and bubbly bottles accompany beers of the week and small-batch bourbon on an eye-opening spirits list. A cubist decor dotted with square stools, pop-art prints, and exposed brick houses sippers of Bison Grass vodka, nibblers of salt-and-butter baguettes, while outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy the dog-friendly patio.
To many, the idea of French cuisine inspires images of stuffy maître 'ds and three-figure bottles of burgundy. Those people might be surprised to stumble upon Maude's Liquor Bar, which Brendan Sodikoff—the gastronomic mastermind behind Gilt Bar—designed to embody "a dive bar in Paris," according to Chicago Magazine. In its second floor digs, mismatched chandeliers cast a low glow over salvaged subway tiles and exposed brick walls as diners savor a contemporary French-American menu that its creators describe as “straightforward and sexy with playful twinges.” Though the food is more than worth the wait on weekend nights, the drink list is where Maude’s truly shines. Classic cocktails, such as the Sazerac and the St. Germain Fizz, mingle with unique libations such as the Smash, a drink brimming with mint leaves, citrus wedges, and a choice of spirits ranging from whiskey to chartreuse. Of course, no French dive would be complete without a wine selection, and Maude's list of about 30 reds, whites, and champagnes doesn't disappoint.
Inside Bull & Bear's specially equipped booths, personal table taps keep glasses brimming with suds so that patrons never have to leave their seats. The innovative system pours out a domestic and imported brew apiece, using a pay-as-you-drink meter to keep track of the tab. Bull & Bear's amenities extend to its exposed brick walls, where 25 plasma screens broadcast sports in HD. The bar and eatery, which produces bison burgers, wild mushroom ravioli, and brunch straight from the griddle, touts itself as a multi-media hotspot, where state-of-the-art A/V equipment allows for comfortable viewing of a projection screen and a customizable stock-ticker that crawls along the walls.
Bartenders at this no-nonsense cocktail spot make ‘em stiff and simple. The bar just may be the smallest in town—it measures 3.5 feet wide at its narrowest section and 15 feet wide at its roomiest. Still, loyal patrons happily squeeze in and order up a perfectly prepared Manhattan or margarita.