A self-proclaimed dive, Old Town Ale House doles out drinks until just before dawn in a dim, often-cramped space that exudes an enticing dinginess. Its proximity to Piper's Alley--home to The Second City--as well as to Zanie's Comedy Club and the Orchid Theater almost guarantees a steady crowd of performers and theatergoers who sidle up to the cash-only bar for beers on tap, shots, and cocktails. There’s not a lot of fuss here, but that’s where its charm comes from. The bar is cash-only and a bag of chips is the only available entrée option. Even the jukebox is filled with old-timey crooner tunes and jazz. It’s the type of music that was appreciated by the hotshot newspaper reporters, such as Roger Ebert, that called this place their late-night haunt of choice and their preferred spot to duck in during killer-bee attacks. Portraits of famous faces stare down from the walls, frozen in pigment by artist Bruce Elliott, whose paintings depict notable Chicagoans, Second City alums, and naked women in equal measure. Visitors can check out renditions of famous Old Town Ale House regulars, such as John Candy and Jim Belushi, and also ogle at paintings that have garnered national attention, such as nudes of Sarah Palin and Rod Blagojevich. Mr. Elliot is not only the bar’s interior decorator, he’s also the one running the show. Mr. Elliot befriended longtime owner Beatrice Klug over the more than four decades that he was a regular at the bar, and she decided to hand over the keys to the joint after she fell ill with cancer. Beatrice bequeathed Old Town Ale House to Mr. Elliot and his wife under the condition that they would not make any changes. Since opening in 1958, Old Town Ale House continues to remain suspended in time.
Just beyond the clattering pins at Don Carter Lanes, the cooks at Shooter’s Bar & Grill slather chicken wings in sauces such as teriyaki and Cajun, and load custom half-pound burgers with ingredients that can include everything from cheese and onion rings to fried eggs and peanut butter. In addition to pastas and four-topping pizzas, they prepare eight leafy amalgamations, such as chicken caesar salads and taco salads. For dessert, they forge The Big Dipper, whose medley of brownies, ice cream, chocolate, caramel, whipped cream, hunks of Oreo and chocolate, chocolate Swiss Rolls, and cherries remains consistently visible above the 41-degree line of latitude.
Offering a menu of inventive American cuisine with seasonal ingredients, SugarToad's kitchen at the Hotel Arista excels at bold flavors. The chef sources the freshest ingredients possible, including produce plucked from his own Chef’s Garden right outside the door. The rotating menu changes to match the calendar, with past entrees including pork tenderloin with dried-apricot chutney, sweet-potato mash, and napa cabbage, and Slagel Family Farm beef burgers with sun-dried-tomato relish. Between bites of tot-sized brunch boxes with fresh fruit and housemade twinkies, children may sip milk flights of chocolate, strawberry, and banana flavors while caregivers sample cucumber-cantaloupe mimosas, french-press coffee, and the sweet, fleeting silence of a tear-free breakfast.
The rich scents of smoked meats and barbecue sauce fill Hickory River Smokehouse, where chefs slow-smoke beef brisket, pulled pork, and baby back ribs. They cover select cuts of meat in a housemade dry rub before smoking them for many hours in a hickory wood filled smoker. Succulent Texas-style barbecue is the result of the low and slow smoking style. Diners can indulge in award-winning pulled pork, sampler platters, or opt for a lighter fare, including low-fat smoked turkey and country ham. Housemade sides such as cornbread, Texas-style ranch beans, mustard- and mayonnaise-based potato salad, and homemade Texas-style chili round out the hearty meals.
Though the name implies a limited selection of mostly Greek fare, the chefs at Grecian Kitchen have gone out of their way to furnish their menu with an array of Italian and American barbecue dishes. They draw on the same skills to roast gyro meats and grill Angus burgers, though they spend much of their time baking perennial favorites such as moussaka and spinach pie. Adding to the variety are classic diner desserts such as milk shakes and malts, which wash down house-made rice pudding, sticky-sweet baklava, and accidentally inhaled napkins.
Much like the enigmatic, pterodactyl-like creature that occasionally battled and sometimes helped Godzilla, Rodan?s pan-Asian cuisine is delightfully unpredictable. The chefs draw inspiration from culinary traditions throughout Asia and layer the various flavors into complex tastescapes, filling bao with braised chicken and chipotle-spiced peanut sauce, spooning gelato alongside tempura-fried banana splits, and serving flatbread alongside edamame hummus. To complement the cuisine, Rodan mixes specialty cocktails with everything from Japanese whiskey to lychee fruit, and pours a sake selection that rivals that of any Japanese izakaya.
The kitchen stays open until as late as 1 a.m. throughout the week, allowing guests to enjoy a quick late-night bite at one of the modern, wooden booths. Meanwhile, live DJ sets keep toes tapping to soul and funk as a large projector screen keeps adrenaline flowing by playing vintage footage such as every one of Babe Ruth?s classic strikeouts.