Time to put away the bikinis and break out the elk skin parkas. The cold season is staring us down like an angry polar bear and all the experts say this one is going to be a doozy.
Fortunately, Chicago (no stranger to harsh weather) is equipped with a variety of distractions in the form of plentiful beer, hearty food, and pumpkin spiced everything to prepare for the impending cold and to keep us all from moving to Florida.
Here are some of the best bars and restaurants to brave the impending winter weather, Oktoberfest style.
The golden age of the Chicago beer hall is long past, old style emporiums of kegs and taps have been replaced with trendy microbrews that have more in common with cafes than actual bars.
But there’s one spot down on Irving Park Road in Lincoln Square that’s endured in fine form to this day.
Resi’s Bierstube (that’s “beer hall” in German) offers a large selection of beer in generously oversized steins, as well as hearty pretzels and potato pancakes that are among the best in the city. In the warmer months, there’s a beer garden open outside where you can enjoy some good old fashioned Chicago smog while you down your brew. Expect friendly (although occasionally slow) service from a very knowledgeable staff, and large portions on your plate.
The pub grub ranges from good to amazing, a perfect spot to pack on some mass for your encroaching hibernation.
There’s an exclamation point in the name so you know it must be good.
Prost! on Lincoln Avenue has the German beer hall flavor with a dollop of sports bar on top. There’s a handful of TV’s playing various sports at all times. Their familiar American game favorites on the menu like wings and cheese curds might feel like blasphemy to the beer hall purists among us…until they see the size of the beer glasses. Then all is forgiven.
Prost! offers a couple dozen German and Austrian beers that are as delicious as they are unpronounceable There’s Spaten, Warsteiner, Schofferhofer, and Weihenstephan, and a couple Revolution offerings if you don’t want to chew your own tongue off tripping over all those consonants. You can buy them by the liter, half liter, or in a “boot”.
That’s right. You can buy a whopping two liters of beer in one boot-shaped glass – or the equivalent of five and half cans.
Oh, one last Prost! tip: if you’re drinking from the boot and don’t feel like wearing your beer, make sure you gradually turn the toe sideways as you drink. Otherwise an air bubble forms in the toe, causing a tidal wave of precious booze to come roaring out at you.
Laughter from patrons and staff will shortly follow.
Located in a central part of the Loop, the Berghoff Restaurant and Café is a piece of Chicago history.
It received the city’s first liquor license after Prohibition, and today it upholds that tradition by brewing some of the finest craft beer you’ll ever taste. Berghoff beer can be found at most Binny’s locations, but getting it on draught is a whole different experience. They brew several varieties: lager, dark, amber, a Bavarian-style Hefe Weizen, and a rotating selection of seasonal creations – all full bodied, rich, and warming in a way that’s a perfect antidote to a windy Chicago night.
You can sample them all at once by buying a “flight” ($8.50)and try to pick your favorite…but it’s not easy.
On top of that, the Berghoff offers some disturbingly delicious comfort food. It’s mostly German fare, which means kraut, sausage and pretzels as far as the eye can see. There’s a selection of game plates featuring unusual meats like venison and boar on top of the standard fish, chicken and beef. Expect a mid-range bill – not exactly cheap but reasonable for the large portions and extraordinary taste. There’s also a café downstairs that’s open at lunch times where you can stop by for equally good sandwiches and desserts.
Go for the drinks, stay for the food. Or just go for the drinks. Just go to Berghoff’s already, jeez.
New to the Chicago beer hall scene, the Radler looks like it might have what it takes to survive. Lushly decorated with an artsy, homey arrangement that appeals to coffee shop aficionados looking for stronger drinks. The mural behind the bar is 120 years old, a historical relic of the Bohemian Brewing company that endured via Kickstarter. It’s also an airy, easy-to-move-around space, which is a welcome breather on crowded nights.
The menu was concocted by pro chef Nathan Sears – a veteran of Baconfest who’s managed to turn veal sausage and ham hocks into works of art. The giant pretzels come with blackberry jam, and there’s a charcuterie plate with all manner of sausage bites and oceans of mustard variations. The vegetables are no less savory, with addictive smashed beets, Brussel sprouts, and cauliflower custard.
The Radler strikes a good balance between fancy and casual – try pork belly or rainbow trout if you feel like living some high life, or stick to sausage and beer if you’re just looking to fill your belly. If they can keep up this level of quality, the Radler will surely be keeping us buzzed and satisfied for years to come.
(Featured photo taken by Carlyn Hill for MajorOnions)