Shana Tova to you all! In the spirit of the New Year, and while munching on the irresistible flavor combination of apples and honey, I have compiled a list of my favorite bars and restaurants that opened their doors since September of last year. Some of these places are so new, you can still smell the freshly painted walls as you wander through the doors and see the long lines of people trying to get in on these brand new Chicago dining and drinking experiences! So what are you waiting for? Get out there and join the crusade for a culinary adventure!
601 N. State St.
If anyone has been to Pop’s for Champagne on State Street for some bubbly or a fun night out on the town, then you’ve probably ventured downstairs into the club/lounge area at one time or another. Well, for the past several months Pop’s has been quietly renovating the space, and from that chaos emerges a diamond of a hotspot. Watershed’s creative and contemporary beverage program is operating on all cylinders thanks to one of the top Chicago mixologists, and a very good friend of mine, Daniel de Oliveira. Recently joining the Olmeca Altos tequila company, Dan has put together some wonderful libations for both seasoned and the newbie drinkers to explore. The bar also features local craft beer and regional small-batch spirits. Pop’s chef Chris Walker is behind the configuration of cheers and charcuterie, small plates and small bite snacks. If you’re in the River North neighborhood, make sure to go in and wander downstairs for a unique drinking parlor experience.
1531 N. Damen Ave.
My girlfriend and I had recommendations from several friends to try this new place that opened up recently. Thinking we’d have no problems getting a table on a Thursday night, we made a big mistake and a huge underestimation at the popularity of this Wicker Park sensation that took over an old Pontiac dealership space. A 30 table wait, the hostess tells as we are strolling up to the entrance. And she was right—it turned out to be around an hour and a half wait. That should say something about just how good a restaurant Big Star has become in its infancy in the Chicago dining playground. Just what is it that draws such a crowd, besides is ample outdoor patio seating, its 360 degree bar featuring tasty local brews, and its killer Mexican food? Well, it just so happens that it’s part of a very successful family of city hotspots that include avec, the Violet Hour, Blackbird and the Publican, so you know it’s worth the wait. While my girlfriend and I did not end up waiting an hour and a half to eat that night, we are definitely making plans to check it out ourselves very soon. And why not, with all the tasty tacos, tostadas and beer you can imagine? Let’s hope it’s not another 30 table wait!
Kith and Kin
1119 W. Webster Ave.
About a month ago, while volunteering at an annual fundraiser to end children’s hunger in the US, I had the pleasure of working a station next to David Carrier, who happens to be the chef de cuisine at Lincoln Park’s newly opened Kith and Kin. What a treat! After we exchanged introductions and had a chance to sample each other’s creations, I got a chance to get to know David and his philosophy behind the success of his food: simple and flavorful. And how! Try their tasty appetizers, dive into their hearty salads, or for those couples that love to share, try the 24 ounce ribeye for two. And don’t miss out on dessert, either! I’d recommend the buttermilk panna cotta or the chocolate mousse.
1510 N. Wells St.
This Old Town, two-story beer garden has taken eating, drinking and watching sports to a whole new level. I mean, they’ve thought of everything: a retractable rooftop and a plethora of windows for warmer climate, built-in TVs and screens that literally rise out of the back of the banquettes, a large but very affordable wine list, and some killer sandwiches and pizza to curb your appetite. Even when the weather cools, you won’t find a better spot in the neighborhood for a young and social crowd that want to watch their sports and enjoy some amazing bar food with friends and family!
The Bar 10 Doors
1251 W. Taylor St.
This unique watering hole found in the Little Italy neighborhood on Taylor Street boasts a wonderful combination of great drinks and global small plates. They’ve got 16 draft beers, both American and imported, that will whet any thirsty traveler’s appetite. And the small plates are out of this world, or should I say all over this world! Sashimi from Japan, curry from India, ceviche from Spain, and a saffron risotto called arancini from Mexico that is absolutely lip-smacking delicious. The price range is very accommodating and they stay open well into the night, so don’t pass up this opportunity to travel to a different part of town and enjoy!
Try one of these five brand new hotspots and I will guarantee you a very sweet time!