While you were out patio-hopping your way through the great Chicago “heatwave” of February 2017, several new restaurants and watering holes slid into the city's ever-evolving dining scene. From a bar centered around a hot tub to a vibrant gastropub that harkens back to the ‘70s, here are the top six you won't want to miss.
Applebee's Serving New Dollar Hurricanes to Kick Off Mardi Gras
West Loop Among Chicago's myriad Mediterranean, sandwich, and poké counter-service restaurants emerges something new: a Northern Italy-inspired, polenta-slinging fast-casual spot. The assembly line operation offers eight sauces for customers to pair with the corn-based dish, from a classic pomodoro and one made with octopus to the vegetarian speciality with mushrooms. As an added bonus, each preparation is clearly marked if it’s dairy-free, gluten-free, vegetarian, and/or vegan, making Polenta Bar a great destination for diners with dietary restrictions.
River North Transport yourself to a swanky apres-ski party by way of this novel bar from the ACME Hotel Company and the folks who brought us Steadfast and The Fifty/50. The lounge is available exclusively for private parties of up to 18, and features a retro chalet vibe, complete with skis, antlers, a cluster of orb lights on the ceiling that resemble snowballs, and, of course, a massive hot tub. The short-but-sweet beverage menu is designed to look like a trail map, and includes thematically on-point sips like a cognac-based Chalet Frappe, German red wine with mulling spices, shotskis, and more.
Logan Square This casual spot breathes new life into the space that once housed beloved dive bar Two Way Lounge, feeling modern while retaining a bit of the old gritty edge. The uncomplicated menu features cheap beer to the tune of Old Style and Miller High Life, classic cocktails like the Pisco Sour and Horse's Neck, and a food menu with omelets, griddled butter burgers, and hand-breaded chicken nuggets that will soak up your indiscretions.
Wicker Park With its funky, ‘70s-inspired aesthetic and eclectic eats, Rhyme or Reason will quickly become a go-to for Wicker Park's trendy set. Expect regular live music performances, vinyl-only tunes from the DJ booth, and dishes like crab rangoon dip with fried wonton crackers, deconstructed duck pot pie, and taffy apple lollipops.
West Loop This bar sits above Randolph Row newcomer Ronero, and while the two concepts share a Latin American vibe, they operate separately. Esco Bar opens at 9pm on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays only, and promises a selection of "Cartel Cocktails,” which are delivered to your table via a cart, as well as Ronero favorites like the Mama Pacha and Boca do Rio. On top of all that, there’s lively entertainment in the form of conga players, three-piece bands, DJs, dancers, and more.
Logan Square Check out this Fernet-Branca-centric bar from the folks behind Emporium while you can, because it's actually a pop-up that will last through March in the former Surf Bar space. The temporary joint features a pool table, craft cocktails, and a collage of vintage posters advertising the popular Italian digestif.
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Kailley Lindman is a contributing writer for Thrillist Chicago, as well as a freelance food photographer, food blogger at KailleysKitchen.com, and recovering vegetarian. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.