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Street Level

What to do and where to do it in the South Loop


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George's Lounge This dank hole is tempting in its near-perfect seediness, a place for people "who want to get drunk fast," as the irritable bartender in It's a Wonderful Life puts it. A powerful barnyard aroma permeates the dimness, weakly lit by a CD jukebox. Careworn but personable barkeeps pour stiff drinks from behind the bar, under which cases of beer and fifths are unceremoniously stacked and shelved. With Harold's Chicken Shack No. 62 conveniently located next door, it's the most fun you can have in a cat box.  11 AM-4 AM daily, 646 S. Wabash, 312-427-3964. —Mike Sula

Grace O'Malley's Named after a Celtic pirate queen, this upscale Irish pub and restaurant strives for authenticity, with bartenders with brogues, Guinness and Smithwick's on tap, and pub grub like bangers and mash, shepherd's pie, and corned beef and cabbage. One questionable exception: the Irish Nachos, topped with shredded corned beef and cheddar.  Mon-Sat 11:30 AM-2 AM, Sun 9:30 AM-midnight, 1416 S. Michigan, 312-588-1800. —Bianca Jarvis

Kasey's Tavern The erstwhile charm of this old Printers Row neighborhood joint, currently in the midst of a radical remodeling, seems to have been sucked away by the solid line of flat-screen TVs now installed above the bar—slack-jawed patrons stare silently upward as if at a shuttle disaster. But the imported beer selection is good, you can order food from Hackney's, and the microwave popcorn is still free.  Sat noon-3 AM, Sun-Fri 11 AM-2 AM, 701 S. Dearborn, 312-427-7992. —MS

Kitty O'Shea's In a city that's lousy with nostalgic Irish pub reproductions, the Hilton Chicago's entry is something of a monument to the form, featuring actual brogue-spitting staffers in Gaelic football jerseys; lots of wood, marble, brass, and memorabilia; and expensive industrial-hotel-kitchen renditions of the usual suspects: corned beef and cabbage, shepherd's pie, lamb stew, etc. There's live music nightly and a popular $15 Saint Paddy's Day blowout, but even if you haven't been here before, you've been here before.  11 AM-2 AM daily, 720 S. Michigan, 312-294-6860. —MS

Kroll's South Loop Kroll's got its start in the 30s as a family-run burger stand in Green Bay, Wisconsin; this outpost found its way to Bears country a few generations later. The South Loop edition is a spacious, red-lit sports lounge with a sprawling bar, more than 25 TVs, ten beers on tap, and burgers and bar snacks like deep-fried cheese curds.  Fri-Sat 11 AM-2 AM, Sun-Thu 11 AM-midnight, 1736 S. Michigan, 312-235-1400. —BJ

M Lounge Pass the doorman and you'll be greeted by candlelight and incense before being asked to check your coat. The swanky M Lounge is perhaps the only bar in the South Loop where the flat-screen TVs beam not sports but classic black-and-white films. The specialty here is top-shelf drinks like the M Classic martini, made with Belvedere vodka and garnished with "queen-sized olives"; teetotalers can opt for the M Bellini, peach nectar mixed with alcohol-free champagne. But good luck finding a place to sit on a busy night—this lounge is cozy and small, and more than a few tables were "reserved." There's live jazz on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  Fri 5 PM-2 AM, Sat 6 PM-2 AM, Tue-Thu 5 PM-midnight, 1520 S. Wabash, 312-447-0201. —BJ

Sam's Wine and Spirits The booze superstore's newest location, in the former Union Bus Depot building at Wabash and Roosevelt, has a 55-seat wine bar featuring a rotating selection of 15 to 20 pours by the glass and four or five beers. Cheese boards are available, but customers can also bring snacks over from the in-store fromagerie and uncork their own store-bought bottles. Last call is a half hour before closing. Fri-Sat 11 AM-10 PM, Mon-Thu 11 AM-9 PM, Sun 11 AM-7 PM, 50 E. Roosevelt, 312-663-9463. —MS

Sky Ride Tap Named for the Otis Elevator exhibit at the 1933 Century of Progress Expo, this gem is tucked under the el tracks, technically north of our South Loop boundaries but meriting inclusion regardless. Extraordinary in its casual midcentury lack of pretension and approachability, it's a comfortable dim-lit relic of a long-gone Loop, haunted by decompressing CBOT traders and Metra commuters waiting for the next train home. There's a small selection of domestic beers and midshelf liquors and a menu of chili dogs, Polishes, and salami sandwiches.  Mon-Fri 7 AM-midevening, 105 W. Van Buren, 312-939-3340. —MS

South Loop Club Membership in this club requires a superhuman tolerance for neon, booze industry advertising, and inhospitable overregulation (10 percent extra for separate checks of parties of three or more?!). The place combines the atmospheric charms of an Applebee's and a frat-house basement, and the surfeit of menus—distinct lists for Scotch, beer, vodka, tequila, etc)—can only have been designed to confuse and separate patrons from their powers of discernment, leading to ill-advised and costly choices such as the Slutty Bull or the Electric Lemonade. There's a similarly wide-ranging and bewildering bar-food menu, folded up like a piece of origami—studying it leads to the spins.  Sat 11 AM-5 AM, Sun-Fri 11 AM-4 AM, 701 S. State, 312-427-2787. —MS

Tantrum Despite the name, this is a pleasantly laid-back, cozy cocktail lounge that's hip without being pretentious. The specialty here is martinis mixed by friendly bartenders; there's mellow hip-hop on the speakers, funky local art on display, comfy chairs and couches, and a low-key crowd of neighborhood folks and artsy types. The bar recently introduced free WiFi and a small food menu, making it an excellent place to work as well as socialize.  Sat 5 PM-3 AM, Mon-Fri 5 PM-2AM, 1023 S. State, 312-939-9160. —BJ

Congress Lounge Built in 1893, the Congress Plaza Hotel was known as the "home of presidents" in its heyday, hosting guests like Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt. Those days are long gone, but the decor of the Congress Lounge reflects past glories, with marble floors, dusty fireplaces, medieval lighting fixtures, and big brown leather couches. Imbibing here is sort of like having a beer at grandpa's: it's quiet (the patrons are typically a handful of hotel guests) and endearingly stodgy. The food and drink offerings are what you'd expect from a hotel bar—bottled beers, cocktails, and overpriced buffalo wings.  Open Sun noon, Mon-Fri 4 PM, Sat 2 PM, closing hours vary, 520 S. Michigan, 312-427-3800. —BJ

Villains Although the menus look as if they were designed by Vivienne Westwood circa 1977, this is a neighborhood bar for yuppies, not punks; look elsewhere if you're longing for sticky floors and bathroom graffiti. Villains offers ten beers on tap, martinis named after comic book baddies, and quirky bar munchies like buffalo calamari and deep-fried mac 'n' cheese. There are pool tables but no jukebox—80s new wave plays on the sound system, and local burlesque diva Michelle L'amour ("the ass that goes POW!") performs monthly. Among the interesting experiments in interior design are lamps fashioned from toy guns, Andy Warhol prints of Elvis along the length of the bar, and exposed brick standing cheek by jowl with baroque wallpaper and artfully textured walls. Winter hours Sat 5 PM-3 AM, Mon-Fri 11 AM-2 AM, 649 S. Clark, 312-356-9992. —BJ

Wabash Tap Owned by the same people who run the Chicago Firehouse and Grace O'Malley's, Wabash Tap serves PBR in big, frosty pimp goblets, has delectably greasy snacks like tater tots and chili-cheese fries, and offers complimentary neon yellow popcorn (and free peanuts in the shell on Tuesdays). There's a selection of 12 domestic and imported beers on tap and a good mix of rock 'n' roll on the digital jukebox, but the bar's primary charm is that it's not trying to be anything other than what it is: a casual neighborhood place. The kitchen stays open till 1 AM. Sat 11 AM-3 AM, Mon-Fri 10 AM-2 AM, Sun 11 AM-2 AM, 1233 S. Wabash, 312-360-9488. —BJ

Weather Mark The breezy nautical theme at this spacious, child-friendly barstaurant seems at odds with the South Loop's gritty history—it would do well to hire on a few pirates or a wisecracking parrot just to keep things anchored. There's a long menu of upscale bar food (e.g., venison and wild boar pigs in a blanket), a selection of mostly rum-running house cocktails (Almost Stormy, Three Sheets to the Wind), and 40 rums, along with a more limited beer and wine list.  Sat-Sun 10:30 AM-2 AM, Mon-Fri 11:30-2 AM, 1503 S. Michigan, 312-588-0230. —MS

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