With patio season well underway, restaurants are breaking out the string lighting and we’re breaking down Wicker Park’s top 5 rooftops, courtyards, and beer gardens for libation-fueled lounging. Read up, drink up, repeat as needed. You earned it this winter.
Benchmark | 1510 N Wells St
Lively sports bar with a wide range of bar food from salads to steaks, plus a patio & roof-deck.
This architecturally-impressive 8,000 sq ft bi-level behemoth of a sports bar is helmed by the same people behind Gaslight and Brownstone. Through the soaring atrium, across from the DJ’s perch sits an open-air beer garden. For summer months, the entire south wall and southern roof of the second floor retracts, turning the lofted second floor space instantly into a breezy rooftop hangout. When the sun isn’t shining, diners tune to the six-panel big screen mounted above the main bar (one of a ludicrous 46 flat screens, in all). This spot achieves the comforting sensibility of a neighborhood watering hole without the tired decor. The vibe amounts to a gentlemanly mixture of leather lounge seating, Italian quartz walls, Lollipop Lamb Chops and Cubs-shirt clad patrons.
I believe it is the “lollipop lamb chops” menu item at which you realize Benchmark is doling out way higher class grub than your standard pub fare. Ditch the utensils for a meatball pomodoro pizza with a pinch of basil & cracked pepper or the Korean-style steak tacos topped with a slaw of Napa cabbage. For this spot’s best, you’ll have to come back in August for the shark week specials, which practically earned an ode in our Foodie Finds piece from last week.
Old Town Pour House | 1419 N Wells St
Upscale pub food & a massive beer list served in an elegant wood-clad space with a mezzanine.
For an open-air draught, try this wood-ensconced bi-level brew hall with wall-to-wall flatscreens and 120 taps on Wells, out of which flow 90 kinds of beer. Stouts. Porters. Pilsners. Belgians. Lagers. Lambics. Only thing more expansive than the draft list is the 10,000-square-foot space, itself. The wood-paneled, leather clad interior has the vibe of an upscale gentlemanly hangout. The upscale eats prove that’s precisely the demographic the restaurateurs were courting.
High-brow small plates like filet mignon sliders and crab fondue segue nicely into mouth-watering mains like the truffle mac & cheese with short ribs braised in Guinness and red Snapper tacos with lime, cilantro, and the works. A beer flight is the only way to do the tap list justice. For family-style camaraderie, indulge in the large-format “bombers” — 750ml pours fit for sharing (one would hope). Give the Old Stock Ale from North Coast Brewing Co. a try. If you haven’t tried a brew aged in whiskey barrels before, consider this your first. Even if you have, consider this your first with 15% ABV. Cheers to a potent pour, friends.
Old Town Social | 455 W North Ave
Cocktails, craft beers & a varied American menu anchor this upscale sports bar with outdoor seating.
Mixing turn-of-the-century charm with the quaint comfort of a neighborhood mainstay, Old Town Social rather perfectly encapsulates the allure of the surrounding neighborhood, itself. OTS mixes luxurious touches like marble-topped bars, a wood-burning fireplace, and a vintage shoe shine station with an approachably decadent menu crafted by a Blackbird vet.
The menu similar fuses blue collar classics with upscale fare. Take, for instance, their masterful take on macaroni: Stilton blue cheese on a mac platter that also comes with cheddar, Gruyere, and topped with your pork belly or smoked brisket. OTS’s southern-style culinary leaning expresses itself in the crispy pork belly and heirloom tomatoes on the BLT, crispy duck supplanting chicken on the wing menu, and a top-notch charcuterie bar dealing out sopressata, chorizo, and Kentucky Country ham. While technically translating to “springtime,” La Primavera is our pick for summer cocktail: Don Julio, aperol, lime, agave, grapefruit, & orange blossom. Bringing new meaning to “juice bar” is the cheekily-named “Health Juice” pairing St. Germain and Hendricks gin with fresh berries, rhubarb bitters, cava, & soda.
Kamehachi | 1531 N Wells St
Japanese dining plus traditional sushi in a bi-level modern space with an upstairs lounge & patio.
A bi-level sushi grotto with fresh-made sashimi and barrel-aged sake and a patio that warrants inclusion on the short list of Old Town al fresco spots. The ground-floor is a marked break in scenery from the old-timey storefronts dotting the rest of Wells Street. It looks more like a sexy Kyoto night market, with hand-lettered calligraphy on the walls, sake barrels suspended from the ceiling, and sushi chefs laying out raw fish on chilled river stones. Upstairs sits a lounge with a more tranquil aesthetic, courtesy of birch branches decor, planters full of pebbles, a waterscape triple-etched on glass panels.
You’re going to need some time to mull over the maki roll options so get things started with bourbon barrel-aged sake. For those who demand some extra heat beyond the imminent dose of wasabi, opt for the Strawberry Jalapeño Mojitos. As for the rolls? We expounded upon our fandom of the White Heat roll in our foodie finds piece — and for good reason. Get your order in the kitchen queue before the chef’s move through their nightly allotment of escolar (essentially a fattier, richer version of swordfish). Rounding out the roll, the chef will add wasabi tobiko (‘flying fish’ roe), avocado, cilantro, citrus soy, and — for the ‘heat’ — jalapeno & chili paste.
Glunz Tavern | 1202 N Wells St
Historic tavern with a European-style menu boasting a tin ceiling, mahogany bar & hardwood floors.
What happens when a pre-prohibition era tavern goes into a time capsule for 120 years? Wonder no longer. The Glunz Tavern, aptly described as the Rip Van Winkle of watering holes, was first opened in 1888 by the same family currently running Old Town’s House of Glunz wine shop but remained closed post-Prohibition until just last year. While in storage for well over a century, everything from the original stained glass windows to the brass cash register were kept in mint condition. That means patrons can sip 21st century brews while beneath the original tin ceiling and amidst centuries-old old menus and signage that’ve been in storage all this time. Wisely, the Glunz family then added some old-school Chicago flourishes for the re-opening like furniture from the original Berghoff and a massive mirror snagged from the Ambassador East.
The Glunz family reached out to the chef of LP’s acclaimed Butcher and Burger to craft a German-inspired menu for the spot. Start with a three-cheese board for the table, which will score you cow, sheep, and goat cheeses, fruit, almonds, peppered honey, and bread. For authentic fare, opt for the Schnitzel: parmesan breaded veal & spaetzle brought home with a sunny-side farm fresh egg. The veggie-inclined or those seeking lighter fare post-pilsner can rest easy knowing the beet salad with Caraway goat cheese and pistachios earned a ringing endorsement from Maria. For filling up your cup, they offer a rotating selection of small-batch wines, eight seasonal beer taps, and reserve whiskey from exclusive Scotches to Van Winkle bourbon aged 15 years.