There are so many new restaurants opening in Chicago, that one can’t possibly keep up and try them all. As people often race for the new hotspots, there are many long-time restaurants that often go unnoticed. These classics have been local Chicago institutions for many years and have great old-world ambiance and excellent food. I have decided to make it my mission to go back to or to try these special places for the first time.
For a great traditional Chicago experience don’t miss Gene & Georgetti at 500 N. Franklin. I recently went to this Chicago institution for the first time, that has been serving steaks and Italian specialties since 1941. Not a trendy spot frequented by the younger, hip crowd, the crowd is older and consists of many regulars. The attentive waiters wear traditional white jackets and long white aprons. You feel like you’ve walked back in time. It has a warm, clubby feel with great photographs and murals. They have a great selection of steaks, chops, pastas, salads and seafood. The mussels marinara were really excellent!
I first went to The Berghoff Restaurant for the first time when I was 11 years old. The Old World atmosphere is the best, as is its great German food. Try the sauerbraten like I did in 1963! At Christmastime, the decorations are always festive. Having been in the same location since 1887, it closed a few years ago for a short time, but was soon reopened by one of the family members. You will be so glad that it is still around!! 17 W. Adams St.
Club Lucky looks like an old neighborhood supper club with good Italian food and retro atmosphere. The Christmas decorations in December are outstanding. It is located at 1824 W. Wabansia, in the heart of Bucktown.
Twin Anchors is located at 1655 N. Sedgwick. Since 1932, it is known for its great burgers and ribs. A favorite spot of Frank Sinatra’s, his music is still played. It is a perfect place to go on a cold Chicago night. Drinking a single malt Scotch while listening to Frank Sinatra, is the best.
Located in Old Town, near Division and Wells, is Glunz Tavern, next to the House of Glunz, one of Chicago’s oldest wine merchants. Originally opened in 1888 by Louis Glunz, the popular neighborhood gathering spot sat vacant for more than 90 years following its closure just prior to Prohibition. It was reopened in 2012 by his family members. It is known for its selection of beer, wine and European influenced cuisine. It has a casual, old-world atmosphere. 1202 N. Wells.
A well-known Chicago institution is the famous Drake Hotel at 121 E. Walton. Here you can enjoy afternoon tea in the elegant Palm Court, which also features jazz and music on weekend nights. The hotel’s famed Coq d’Or bar is a great spot for a classic cocktail.
Made famous by Saturday Night Live, “Cheeseburger! Cheeseburger! Cheeseburger! No Coke! Pepsi! No Fries! Chips!”, the Billy Goat Tavern is located below 430 N. Michigan Ave. Walk down the stairs to the lower level and stop in for a burger in this fun, casual spot.
Not far from the Billy Goat Tavern, is Shaw’s Crab House at 21 E. Hubbard. It has been there for over thirty years and is a Chicago institution. I was just back in preparation for this article and loved the warm, atmosphere and great food. I chose and loved the Hot Appetizer Combination with a mini crab cake, crispy calamari, two butter poached oysters, a steamed king crab bite and half of a grilled Maine lobster tail. The addition of two oysters Rockefeller made for a perfect meal. Their Oyster Bar is fun as well and often has live music. They are open for lunch, dinner and brunch on Saturday and Sunday.
Next door to Shaw’s is Andy’s Jazz Club that features two live jazz bands nightly in a traditional setting. Opened as a neighborhood bar in 1951 by Andy Rizzuto, it became very popular with many in the newspaper business who worked nearby. He operated until 1975 when it was sold to the current ownership group that later added jazz to the mix. Make sure to add this to your list of things to do this Summer.
The Green Mill Cocktail Lounge, a former prohibition-era speakeasy, is now host to great jazz every night of the week. You will love the warm, atmosphere. It is believed to be the oldest continuously run jazz club in the US. Try to see Patricia Barber on Monday evenings if she is not touring. She has always been one of my favorites since she was a regular at the, now closed, Gold Star Sardine Bar. She is now starting her performances at 9 pm. The Green Mill is also home to the Uptown Poetry Slam. There is parking in the lot behind the club. 4802 N. Broadway.
Club Lago, at 331 W. Superior at Orleans, is a wonderful old-world Italian restaurant complete with red and white checked tablecloths. Since 1952, it has offered Chicagoans great Northern Italian specialties. Down the street at 678 N. Orleans, is the famed Green Door Tavern that has been there since 1921. It is known for its burgers, salads and sandwiches.
Located at 2424 S. Oakley, Bruna’s Ristorante this has been a popular spot for over 82 years. This makes it older than the Pump Room and Gene & Georgetti’s. I recently went back after my first visit over 30 years ago. I love the traditional atmosphere with its dim lighting and murals. The fried calamari were excellent as was the white fish entree and the tasty linguini frutti di mare with shrimp, scallops, clams and mussels.
Old Town Ale House: This Classic Chicago neighborhood bar from 1958 is the perfect spot for a Manhattan or other cocktail. The music on the juke box is great. The art throughout the bar is painted by the owner and features such people as Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and Vladimir Putin in a pink tutu. 219 w. North Ave.
Butch McGuire’s: A long-time staple on the Chicago bar and restaurant scene since 1961. They have a good brunch with excellent sandwiches and burgers. Their reuben was really great. The decorations at Christmas are not to be missed. 20 W. Division.
Lou Mitchell’s: This popular breakfast and lunch spot, has been a Chicago institution since 1923. It is located along the original Route 66 that started in 1926 in Chicago. You can find a large number of egg and pancake dishes along with salads, burgers and sandwiches. 565 W. Jackson Blvd.
Opened in 1971, RJ Grunts was the first Lettuce Entertainment restaurant. It has a classic decor with a casual menu of burgers, sandwiches, wraps and a huge salad bar. It is perfect if you are visiting the Lincoln Park Zoo across the street. 2056 Lincoln Park West.
After many years, I just went back to the Italian Village Restaurant, which is Chicago’s oldest Italian restaurant since 1927. At 71 W. Monroe in the Loop, they have three restaurants in one location. The Village on the upper level is the original restaurant that features Northen Italian cuisine in a fun, traditional atmosphere. Vivere, on first floor, is the newest and known for more fine dining in a warm, contemporary room while La Cantina Chophouse on the lower level gives you the feel of dining in a wine cellar. It features the same menu as The Village plus more steaks and chops. This is a good spot before you head to a Loop Theater, Orchestra Hall or the Civic Opera House for a performance.
Gejas Cafe: Established in 1965 this is Chicago’s classic fondue restaurant. I recently went back after many years and loved the warm, candle-lit atmosphere. It was named America’s Most Romantic Restaurant in 2015 by USA Today. You feel like you are dining in a fine wine cellar. Their four course premier dinners include a salad, cheese fondue, the main course with a choice of meat, fish or vegetables that you cook yourself and a flaming chocolate dessert fondue. We opted for the salad; a lovely cheese fondue where you dip grapes, apples and assorted breads into a creamy gruyere and the dessert fondue where you can roast marshmallows over a flamed pot of Belgium chocolate and dunking various types of fruits including strawberries, bananas and pineapple, pound cake and rice krispy treats. I found this plenty of food and loved it with a good glass of Argentinian Malbec. 340 W. Armitage in Lincoln Park.