Bocce Is the Restaurant Activity of the Summer

There's something about the long, hard winters here in Chicago that make us appreciate the warm weather all the more. When spring and summer roll around, we're itching to get outdoors and take advantage of the forecast, even if the forecast is temperate jacket weather. We'll take what we can get. All the grueling winters of late has beget an uptick in al fresco activities at restaurants. Beyond patio seating, restaurants and bars have introduced a slew of gaming options to help entice and excite patrons. This year, the sport that looks to be the king of summer 2015 is bocce, with courts popping up at Three Aces, Kaiser Tiger, and Pinstripes. Plus, the new Chicago Athletic Association hotel has an enormous indoor bocce court in their Game Room. 


Kaiser Tiger
Kaiser Tiger's bocce courts

One of the progenitors of the bocce trend is Pinstripes, a Chicagoland dining and entertainment institution that has been dazzling the suburbs for years. The brand recently rolled into Chicago proper with an enormous bi-level location in Streeterville. The newest Pinstripes, along with its sister spots features bowling and bocce courts, two key tenets of the organization. Along with an Italian-accented food menu, a full bar, and outdoor lounge chairs surrounding fire pits along the marina, Pinstripes Streeterville contains both indoor and outdoor bocce courts. These sleek, faux grass courts are shiny and pristine. Grab a group, reserve a court, and keep the drinks flowing as you delicately toss bocce balls down the court, racking up the points. Or attempting to, at least. 

Kaiser Tiger knows how to have a good time. This past winter, the West Loop bar and restaurant introduced curling courts on their patio, making the most of the frigid weather. Talk about turning lemons into lemonade. The large space also boasts foosball, ping pong, and pinball machines. New to the fun lineup is bocce. Two bocce courts have replaced the curling courts for the season on the patio, making for the perfect energy- and appetite-building activity for an evening of bacon-eating and beer-swigging. 

With picnic tables and projected movies streamed along the side of a nearby building, Three Aces' patio is the place to be in the summertime. Not to mention the killer Italian-American fare and the deep beer and cocktail list. This year things are getting even more festive, with the imminent addition of a bocce court. This one might be a better fit for newbies, as the gravel-y court tends to be more adhesive than fake grass. So when you're tossing the bocce balls, they won't slide around as quickly. 

One of the largest bocce courts I've ever seen is newly in place at the Chicago Athletic Association hotel, which just opened last week. The impeccably renovated hotel, which premiered to Michigan Avenue in the late 1800's and sat dormant for nearly a century, is once again open for business, and folks like Land & Sea Dept. are bringing it back to its merry heyday with spots like their Milk Room cocktail bar, Cherry Circle Room restaurant, and Game Room. The latter is home to classic cocktails, a snacky food menu, and a whole slew of billiards. The king of them all is the bocce court, a behemoth of a court filled with crushed oyster shells as gravel. Best course of action: order a bottled Brooklyn cocktail and some lime-splashed popcorn, then make your way to the courts to partake. Wet naps are standing by, as the oyster shells tend to leave a powdery residue on your hands. 

- Matt Kirouac