Where to Play (And Eat and Drink) After Work Near the Loop
All work and no play make Loop office-workers go stir-crazy. The central business district is notorious for offices and after-hours solitude, but part of that has changed over the years as more downtown workers have professed their needs for after-work drinks and dining. It certainly helps mitigate the commute when there's legit dining and drinking to be had by the office. Help numb yourself from the drudgery of the work week with this handy guide to after-work fun in and near the Loop.
(Pearl Tavern oyster goodness)
Pearl Tavern: One of the greatest, most glam things to happen to the Loop's dining scene in recent years is this lustrous seafood bar. Inspired by mid-century Americana oyster bars, Pearl Tavern shines the spotlight on pristine shellfish, giving Loop denizens and Chicago residents all over a reason to stick around Wacker Drive after hours. While the Financial District used to quiet down substantially after business hours, now the neighborhood is filled with the sound of shucking and slurping, set against the ambient glow of the Pearl's old-world, sleek decor. Food-wise, the menu features an ever-changing roster of fresh-as-can-be oysters, tartares, crudos, and ceviches. Oysters Rockefeller, seafood empanadas, and mussels are apt small plates sustenance ideal for sharing, along with heftier portions of seafood tacos, lobster rolls, lobster macaroni and cheese, fish & chips, and other nautical delights.
JW Marriott Chicago: You may not know it, but the JW Marriott Chicago is home to one mighty fine bar scene. The splashy Lobby Lounge is destination number one for cocktails in the Loop, the perfect antidote for the daily rat race. Considering the bar recently rolled out its new summer menu, now is the perfect time to drown your woes in drinks like the Veranda Nights with Tito's vodka, orange flower water-infused honey, fresh lemon, and Lagunitas IPA; and the Tempered Trader with Don Julio blanco tequila, Cherry Heering, jalapeno-pineapple syrup, fresh lime juice, grapefruit bitters, and sparkling water.
The Gage: Likely the Loop's most popular eatery and bar is perpetually packed for good reason. And The Gage is worth the inevitable wait. The quasi-British barstaurant, poised directly across the street from the Millennium Park tourist magnet, peddles an impressive miscellany of dinnertime snacks, entrees, desserts, beers, wines, and cocktails. Basically, whatever your desired poison for countering the work day, The Gage has you covered. And they do it well, raising the bar on everything from Scotch eggs and carpaccio to seasonal ravioli, spicy mussels, and one of the best burgers in the city. To drink, The Gage features a steady, biblical menu of beverages, adjoined by a list of seasonal cocktails and draft beers.
(Now doesn't III Forks look nice?)
Townhouse Restaurant and Wine Bar: After you're done at work (or back on the ground following a visit to the Willis Tower), Townhouse Restaurant and Wine Bar is a great locale for beverage specials throughout the week. After work hours, the bar and restaurant comes alive with great promos like Wine Down Wednesdays, which helps conquer Hump Day with $5 glasses of wine, and Bottles and Bread Mondays, featuring $25 select bottles of wine and $10 featured flatbreads. Happy hour is actually three hours spanning 3:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m., so either rush over as soon as the clock strikes 5:00 p.m., or play hooky. It would be worth it for their wine flights and special appetizers such as fried cheese curds, mini lobster rolls, nachos, and chicken sliders.
Howells and Hood: Though not technically in the Loop, Howells & Hood's unique position in the historic Chicago Tribune building coupled with its penchant for craft beer makes it an ideal destination for post-work antics. The sprawling food and drink Mecca is home to Chicago's largest selection of draft beers, featuring more than 114 (!) beer brands over 360 faucets. If the weather is nice out, their patio is one of the hugest in the city as well, complete with a hefty bar of its own. People-watching is impeccable, the beer flows ceaselessly, and the contemporary American cuisine is a nice match with items like chicken drumettes, mini Chicago-style hot dogs, black mole empanadas, charred cauliflower, and toasted ravioli in truffle mornay sauce.
III Forks Steakhouse: One of your best bets for beef near the Loop is III Forks Steakhouse, nestled in the gorgeous, serene Lakeshore East enclave. The restaurant itself is stunning and chic, complete with an incredible rooftop lounge space. In case the destination itself isn't enough to sell you and quell your mid-week cravings, III Forks provides extra incentive with its notable steak and seafood selections. All your favorite steakhouse essentials are present and accounted for, including onion rings, wedge salad, crab cakes, lobster bisque, creamed corn, and asparagus. And let's not forget the meat, available in a variety of steak cuts and sizes with optional toppers like blue cheese and Parmesan. There's also ample fish, seafood, pork, chicken, and other options. To drink, their wine cellar is expansive enough to ensure there is something for everyone and every steak. And nothing ameliorates the weekday woes quite like wine.
- Matt Kirouac