Sam Elias knows that being cooped up during long winter days can make people stir-crazy. So in 1993, after moving from Florida, land of palm trees and beaches, to Chicago, land of frigid winds and gray slush, he founded WhirlyBall as a way for people to release pent-up energy even as snow was falling outside. During each competitive WhirlyBall game, which combines aspects of basketball, hockey, and jai alai, players zoom across an indoor 50'x80' court in motorized cars called WhirlyBugs. They wield plastic scoops to toss a wiffle ball back and forth to their teammates before throwing the ball through an elevated goal. Refs keep watch during the games, eliminating score arguments that would otherwise end in sunrise duels. To fuel up for a bout, players nibble teriyaki chicken satay, gourmet pizzas, and prime rib, and swig draft beers, which vary by location.
All three WhirlyBall spots boast off-court diversions such as video games, pool tables, foosball, and air hockey. The Vernon Hills location hosts an indoor rock-climbing wall, and both the Chicago and Vernon Hills locations invite guests into multilevel Lasertron laser-tag arenas, which fill with fog and flashing lights as combatants duck, aim, and invoke Geneva Convention protocols regarding armed conflict.
Though it begins with the bands that thrash across its stage on weekend nights, Brauerhouse’s celebration of punk and heavy metal doesn’t end there. The hard-hitting theme carries over to the bar’s menu, where burgers and sandwiches bear the names of punk and metal touchstones. Guests can sweat out their inhibitions courtesy of the Hellbilly’s jalapeno-bacon sauce or scream “Gabba! Gabba! Hey!” between bites of the Ramone’s corned beef and sauerkraut. The nods continue with The Blizzard of Oz white pizza, which includes toppings such as black beans and homemade giardinera, and the Ratt Fink spinach and artichoke dip, one of the kitchen's 11 made-from-scratch appetizers. Craft beers via bottle and tap complement each dish, which guests can feast upon in the midst of one of Brauerhouse's weekly events. These include Sunday night’s surround-sound double features and Thursday night’s live band karaoke, during which participants can practice lip syncing in the style of their favorite heavy-metal singer.
Beer House couldn't be more accurately named. The global beer emporium showcases more than 60 on-tap pours, as well as hundreds of bottled craft beers from top breweries, such as Omission and Dogfish Head. Amid all the beer love, bartenders also serve several gluten-free brews and on-tap wine that travels straight from winery barrels to Beer House's pour lines.
Though the beer behemoth serves no food, patrons are welcome to bring their own or order meals from neighboring burger, pizza, and sushi joints. And what the taproom lacks in food, it makes up for in televisions—with 14 60-inch flat-screens and one 80-inch—all of which show the evening's biggest games. On non-game nights, live musicians serenade visitors, be they at the bar's 20-seat community table or starting up a rival band across the room.
If grass-fed beef is king at DMK Burger Bar, then fresh salmon, bison, turkey, and crispy portobello hold court alongside it. Housemade buns hoist these meat and veggie patties loaded with toppings, such as chili-rubbed onion strings, Amish blue cheese, and spicy chipotle ketchup, inside a dining room with an industrial bent. The burger joint and bar also doles out an expansive selection of brews to wash down sides of hand-cut russet-potato fries in salty flavor combinations including Wisconsin cheddar and scallion or parmesan and truffle cream. If burgers aren’t your thing, mac 'n' cheese, housemade sodas, and milk shakes round out the bun-free offerings.
From the beckoning peals of jazz-playing buskers in Jackson Square to the amiable rush of revelers traipsing down Bourbon Street, New Orleans’ French Quarter earns its reputation as one of America’s liveliest locales. The chefs at French Quarter New Orleans Kitchen bring this same bonhomie to the plate, recreating Cajun staples including blackened fish, gumbo, and Cajun-spiced steak. Like holding a jazz funeral for a dead goldfish, the dining room’s bead-strewn chandeliers and gold and crimson walls add a touch of Fat Tuesday flair to everyday life. As guests sup on spicy jambalaya and sip southern cocktails, a lineup of live acts entertains crowds with DJs and blues bands.