A's List: New Chicago hot spots bring on holiday cheer

It's a full-blown tribute to the cult holiday flick "Elf" at Stretch Bar & Grill.
(Photo: Stretch Bar & Grill)

By Audarshia Townsend

It’s been quite a year, so the best way to wrap it up is to wind down with family and great friends. You’ll find a host of festive dining and drinking establishments around Chicago determined to send you off in good cheer. We’ve gathered some of the most intriguing newcomers, from a whimsical holiday pop-up bar to a fine-dining Japanese find led by a female team of up-and-coming culinary stars.

Elf'd Up pop-up bar @ Stretch Bar & Grill. You don’t have to be a Will Ferrell fan to dig this temporary, wacky sensation in Wrigleyville. It’s a full-blown tribute to the cult holiday flick “Elf,” and there’s just so much to take in here. From “Elfies” with a life-sized cutout of Ferrell in all his glory to more than 200 elves decorating the venue, you’re certain to get caught up in the spirit of the theme. There are also drink and food specials—I dare you to order the “breakfast pasta”—snow machines, “Elf” playing on a loop on large screens, happy hour parties and ornament decorating nights.

The corn masa waffle is offered during brunch at Hey Nonny.
(Photo: Hey Nonny)

Hey Nonny. This live-music venue and gastropub in Arlington Heights was an instant hit when it opened in October. It’s a great place to take the family to enjoy live music ranging from the blues to reggae to folk. What’s especially notable is that they’re offering weekend brunch, with a bluegrass band on Saturdays and jazz band on Sundays. What a treat for larger groups, especially this time of year. A few dishes certain to catch your eye: a deconstructed breakfast trifle; corn masa waffle paired with braised pork belly (savory) or berry-thyme compote (sweet); Michigan sweet potato bisque; and pear & fig grilled cheese. For an additional $17, you may enjoy bottomless mimosas or Bloody Mary cocktails.

Ina Mae Tavern & Packaged Goods. Brian Jupiter, who's over the culinary programs at Frontier, Pony Inn and Lottie's, has breathed new life in the Wicker Park space once known as the beloved dive bar Beachwood Inn. With Ina Mae Tavern & Packaged Goods, Jupiter pays homage to his great aunt, whose Louisiana home, right outside of New Orleans, was a place he visited often during childhood. It feels like the type of spot locals would frequent in Crescent City. The menu, of course, is Southern and New Orleans inspired with highlights such as chargrilled oysters, crab-stuffed shrimp, gumbo, fried chicken and po'boys. There's also the "Po'Man's Seafood Tower," which serves two to three people and consists of shrimp, oysters, crawfish, catfish, hush puppies and crispy potatoes.

Tinker To Evers Craft Cocktail Lounge. The intimate Wrigleyville cocktail lounge is situated beneath Union Full Board in the Wheelhouse Hotel. It seats about 40 guests at a walnut-and-brass bar and custom-made velvet tufted banquettes. The walls in the establishment are decorated with artsy versions of Tinker, Evers and Chance's original baseball cards. The drink menu includes 14 unique craft cocktails with playful names offering subtle nods to baseball and all things Americana. Food consists of elevated bar fare such as bacon and sea salt "Cracker Jack"-style popcorn, crispy fried tater tots, and a charcuterie board with Bijou-aged goat and Barely Buzzed Beehive cheeses.

Virtue's main dining room (Photo: Virtue Restaurant & Bar)

Virtue Restaurant & Bar. MK the Restaurant alums Erick Williams and Jesus Garcia have joined forces to open this upscale Hyde Park eatery specializing in reinvented Southern fare. The menu plays up Williams' illustrious fine-dining background, beginning with the "small rations," or appetizers, section. Most notable is the gem lettuce salad, which contains radish, bacon, boiled eggs, buttermilk dressing and house-made crispy black eyed peas. The main event, or "large rations," offers a pork chop with cider-braised apples and yams; brown sugar-glazed salmon with Brussels sprouts, red peas and dill butter; and blackened catfish with Carolina gold rice and barbecue carrots. Those wanting a more casual experience may order the entire menu in the lounge.

Yūgen Chicago. Remember these names when the culinary awards season rolls around next fall: Yūgen Executive Chef Mari Katsumura (Acadia, Blackbird, Entente, Grace Restaurant) and pastry chef Jeanine Lamedieu (Le Bernadin, Smyth + The Loyalist) are certain to garner buzz on the local and national fronts. The Japanese-focused eatery in the West Loop boasts a zen-like dining room extending to the glass-enclosed open kitchen as well as an intimate cocktail lounge called Kaisho. It’s tasting menu only in the main dining room and guests may order a la carte portions of what Katsumura is calling "home" cooking in Kaisho.

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