Apr 212014

Looking for someplace to go that’s new to you or someplace to take out of town guests?
Look no further than the Greater South Loop Association’s Gastronomist entries. We will be posting reviews of local restaurants. We’ll point out highlights of each restaurant—whether it’s a menu item, the ambiance, local lore or some other facet. It’ll be just the starting point for you to continue to explore your neighborhood!
We’ll try to get to all of the restaurants in the area, but, if you have one to recommend that we try, please let us know.

First up, with the onset of warmer weather (in theory), we’ll whet your appetite by exploring the outdoor dining options.

South Loop Open Air Dining

Now that it’s stopped snowing for almost a week, let’s get outside and enjoy our beautiful Chicago spring and summer.
For those days you just don’t feel like cooking or ordering take out, here are some outdoor dining options to consider right here in the neighborhood:

We’ll start with the off street outdoor dining spots and then work our way through the sidewalk cafes (it’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it). These are not traditional reviews, but more descriptive so that you know all your choices. We’ll also include information about whether dogs are permitted, if we know.

Here we go:

chi-firehouse-patio--1024x686The poshest outdoor space I can think of is the patio at the Chicago Firehouse (SE corner of 14th and Michigan). Now, usually, I think of the Firehouse as more of a special occasion restaurant, but cocktails and appetizers on the patio are perfect for a group of friends on a nice evening after work, or a weekend afternoon. The cocktails are very nice, the service is quite good, and their seasonal appetizers are usually perfect for the weather. The patio is behind the restaurant and fenced in on the street and alley side. The plantings are nice, with potted flowers and nice trees. There are soft chairs and nice umbrellas if it’s too sunny or lightly raining. There is also a nice sofa/chair area for a group to lounge. I like the South Cider cocktail and any beet based appetizer they offer. (Not dog friendly that I know of.) (312-786-1401, open for brunch Sun 930-3, lunch M-F 1130-3, dinner S-Th 3-10, F 3-11 and Sat 4-11, bar open S-Th 3-11, F 3-12 and Sat 4-12.)

Cafe Society 002Another nice outdoor space is at Café Society, about to reopen as Spoke & Bird this spring (the outdoor area was under construction last week when I walked by) (SE corner of 18th and Indiana). It’s always shady and, being right by the Women’s Garden and Clarke House, a nice spot to take visitors and kids. The food at Café Society was casual and plentiful and the former owner is remaining involved in the new evolution. Watch for updates.

flo-and-santosFlo & Santos (1310 S. Wabash), in addition to the sidewalk café you see as you walk by, has a whole city lot on the north side of the building for outdoor dining. Who knew pizza and pierogi went together like…well, like Chicago summers and outdoor dining? Named after the founder’s Polish grandma and his Italian grandfather, it offers a unique combination of tastes that never disappoints. A friend in the neighborhood has created his own pizza (not yet on the menu, but he’s working on it) of green olives, pepperoni and carmelized onions. You gotta try it. (Dog friendly sidewalk cafe.) (312-566-9817)

Reggies-RooftopReggies Chicago (2105 S. State) offers another unique outdoor space—their own rooftop. Complete with a carnival style basketball hoop, bags, an outdoor shower, a pool table and dozens of tables, you can get full bar and restaurant service. Their pulled pork sandwich and macaroni and cheese are my favorites. City views like no place else in the area, and live music in the venues downstairs make this a tough place to miss. They also have a sidewalk café at street level. (Dog friendly outdoor space.) (312-949-0120, open late.)

Ma & I at 1234 S. Michigan has tabletop to ceiling windows that they open up in nice weather. Their menu is largely Thai, but also offers Japanese and sushi. This is a great place to go for a nice dinner with friends. Their appetizers are nicely sized to share and the Tiger Smiling is always yummy. Offers good vegetarian options. (Not Dog Friendly.) (312-663-1234, open M-S 1130 to 10, Sun noon-9:30.)

City Tavern (1416 S. Michigan), in addition to its sidewalk café, has floor to ceiling doors into its front area that open in the nice weather. That area is equipped with comfy chairs and a couch. Stroll in through the regular door or step right into your sitting area. Their specialty cocktails are perfect for summer sipping and the menu varies somewhat with the season. I love their poutine. (Indoor open air area not dog friendly.) (312-663-1278, open M-Th 4-12, F 4-1am, Sat 1130-1am, Sun 930-midnight (kitchen closes 2 hours earlier.))

And the one I discovered this weekend: Mariano’s (1615 S. Clark), added outdoor tables in the front of the store. Since it’s not on the street, it’s not really a sidewalk café, and since it’s not a traditional restaurant, I though it belonged in the unusual outdoor spaces. You can get anything off their hot bar, salad bar, or I guess make your own sandwiches even and grab a bite on your way home from the grocery, or stop in after dropping off your recycles in the city yard across Clark Street. (312-225-4386, open 6 am-10pm.)

Next week on to the more traditional sidewalk cafes.

GSLA Gastronomist

Apr 062014

We had a great crowd for GSLA’s most recent Community Updates meeting on March 15th, but we also know not everyone could make it that day. Here are a few notes from the featured presenters.

Ping Tom Memorial Park and Fieldhouse:

The fieldhouse offers a wide list of activities including classes, a pool, a fitness center, a gym and community rooms, which includes a Skyline Patio Deck.  For more information, visit: http://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks/Ping-Tom-Memorial-Park/ or call 312-225-3121, or check out our first installment of sOUTh and ABOUT.

Aaron Joseph, Deputy Sustainability Officer, Office of the Mayor, City of Chicago:

Aaron is a South Loop resident, and was invited to give an overview of recent successes and current priorities of Chicago’s various sustainability initiatives. The vision for the City is to be a more competitive city nationwide. This includes improving our energy efficiency, our waste/recycling handling and our transportation. Email sustainability@cityofchicago.org for more information on recycling, the retrofit program, an energy audit, or sustainability in general.

Recent programs include:

  • Retrofit Chicago— The goal is a 5% reduction in energy use city-wide. It started with municipal projects and includes a voluntary program for commercial buildings, with a City match. There is also a residential aspect. Some of the means are to reduce solar costs, make the application process (permitting) easier and faster.
  • TOD ordinance— Encouraging more flexibility and higher density in development near transit. The ordinance for this was approved in October, 2013.
  • Chicago is the first city to have a “LEED-like” program for public ways. Encourages use of more recycled materials and better storm water management. See more on the CDOT web site.

More info at:


Vice District Brewing Company

VDBC has leased space at 1454 S. Michigan in the landmark building there. It will be a tap room to taste beer produced on the premises. They will have a 7 barrel system in an open floor plan. It’s a 2200 square foot space, and they will have an occupancy of 99 people. They intend to have a communal feel, with long tables, high top tables and lower tables. They anticipate a glass front which will open on to street level in nice weather. They will not make food, but will sell packaged food and allow patrons to bring in their own food or have food delivered. They will also sell locally produced and craft spirits.

Their anticipated hours will be Monday (closed except for private events); T-Th 4 pm to 11:30 pm; F 4 pm to 1 am; Sat noon to 1 am; Sun 11 am to 1 am (during games, probably a later start on non game days). They submitted plans in early March and hope to start their building within 6 weeks. They would like to open mid June, but certainly by July 4th weekend.

The name is a nod to the history of the neighborhood, as is the use of a landmark space.

They are applying for both a tavern license (to sell beer for consumption on site) and a package license (to sell beer to go). At Alderman Dowell’s request, they agreed to limit the package sales to their own beer.

In response to a concern expressed on a local blog, they indicated that there is no communal entrance between their space and Sod Room upstairs. The owners of the Sod Room are very supportive of their use and see no issues of concern. There are only a few hours a week with overlapping hours.

Meeting attendees were asked for the feedback on the VDBC proposal. Notable comments included:

  • I love everything.
  • I think it’s a lovely idea.
  • Welcoming to all. Not a young-person-only place or a sports-only place.
  • Would like to see active partnership with neighboring businesses and the local tourism industry.

Windy City Real Estate

WCRE is looking to rehab the buildings located at 21st and State and 21st and Wabash (currently the Blue Star Automotive space) into mostly 3 bedroom apartments of approximately 900 square feet. There will be a total of 25 apartments, 3 in the Wabash building and 22 in the State building. The buildings will not be connected (they are across an alley with an overhead El from each other) but will share the parking lot. There will be one substandard building demolished, the other two buildings will be rehabilitated.  There will be 19 parking spaces for the development. They anticipate 6 to 8 spaces will be assigned to tenants, the remainder will be for sharing amongst the retail spaces. This allocation is based on their information from other developments they have done.  The parking will be entered from the alley, so no new curb cuts.  Their rental price points for the 3 bedroom units will be approximately $2200, which is comparable to 2 bedroom units elsewhere. They will have retain space on the first floors of approximately 20,000 square feet. They anticipate the Wabash building will be a single retail space, sized for restaurant and anticipate the State Street building could be multiple retail outlets.

Meeting attendees were asked for the feedback on the WCRE  proposal. The comments received at the meeting, and subsequently online, were generally supportive of the project. Neighborhood residents who provided feedback noted their appreciation that WCRE is aiming to preserve and reuse an existing building, and to provide affordable residential options in the South Loop

There were concerns expressed that not enough parking was being provided. WCRE responded that they find most tenants do not have cars and this parking ratio is consistent with their other buildings. All of the spaces are available to be assigned to tenants, and those not assigned with a lease are retail.

There was also support expressed at the meeting for keeping some of the aesthetic and historic characteristics of the current building, in particular the Blue Star sign.  A subsequent blog post by someone present, but not expressing an opinion at the meeting, indicated further support for keeping more of the façade of the building to preserve the building’s history.

2000wabasharender 2001_s_state FILTERED unit 2 render

Alderman Pat Dowell, 3rd Ward

Alderman Dowell presented a range of 3rd Ward updates and suggested that GSLA have McCormick Place officials return for an upcoming Community Updates meeting to bring everyone up to speed with their expansion plans.  She also let us know that the 18th Street CTA connector is being painted in April, so 18th Street will be closed sporadically. The March 3rd Ward newsletter is very comprehensive.

Snap Fitness

Snap Fitness is a new business member of GSLA. Located at 1212 S. Michigan, Snap Fitness is a new gym open 24 hours a day. Membership is $39.95 a month or $59.95 for family plans. They have classes on video, so you can pick whatever you want to do anytime. http://www.snapfitness.com/gyms/chicago-il-60605/5595 or 312- 533-4646.


All told, a great meeting. GSLA’s next Community Updates meeting is scheduled for May 17, from 9am to 10:30am, at the Daystar Center.