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 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!! They recently opened up the bar as part of the main restaurant and added the Adams Street Brewery on the premises. 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.
Down the street a block at 1756 N. Sedgwick is Marge’s Still, which is the oldest continually running pub in Chicago. I recently went back for lunch and enjoyed the food and atmosphere. They have a large menu of burgers, salads and entrees.
Just to the west of Twin Anchors and Marge’s is King Crab Chicago at 1816 N. Halsted. This has been a neighborhood institution for over 30 years. They have a large menu of crab legs, crab cakes, mussels, fresh fish and seafood, pasta and steaks. It is a perfect spot before a production at the Steppenwolf Theatre. It has a fun, casual atmosphere. I prefer the front dining room.
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. The Old World Tasting Room is a treasure trove of hand-carved furniture and drinkware from the neighborhood’s German past. 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, opened in 1933 after prohibition, is a great spot for a classic cocktail. I was just there and loved the atmosphere.
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. I also like the ham and cheese sandwich!
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. “The Mill’s Jazz Age pedigree has no equal in Chicago. Newspaper accounts of the era tell a lively tale of the locals’ proclivities and personalities. Jack “Machine Gun” McGurn, a Capone associate, supposedly owned part of the club during Prohibition, when tunnels under the bar were used to smuggle in booze, and kept a table reserved for his boss (walk into the bar, past the booths on the north wall, and it’s the first one you run into, positioned so you can see both entrances).” Superstars in the past routinely performed at the Mill, including Billie Holiday and Al Jolson.
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.
Thanks to a Prohibition Walking Tour I found The Drifter. It is in the basement of the Green Door Tavern and was the original speakeasy space from the 1920s. Today it is a dark, cozy space where you can have a great cocktail and see a fun show. The performers can be singers, burlesque dancers, magicians or other acts. They open at 5pm and don’t take reservations, so go early to assure you get a table. They are open Tuesday through Saturday. I highly recommend it. It was one of the most fun experience I have had recently in Chicago. 676-8 N. Orleans.
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 Northern 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.
A few blocks from the Italian Village is the popular Miller’s Pub at 134 S. Wabash. It has been a Chicago institution since 1935. I went back after many years and enjoyed a great turkey reuben for lunch before a matinee of the Joffrey Ballet. I really enjoyed the traditional atmosphere, the excellent service and the great food. The menu features a large selection of sandwiches, salads and burgers. They are known for their BBQ ribs. The room are decorated with autographed photos from many of the celebrities from Frank Sinatra to Marilyn Monroe, who have dined there over the years.
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 was plenty of food and loved it with a good glass of Argentinian Malbec. 340 W. Armitage in Lincoln Park.
Duke of Perth: This is a classic Chicago bar that is a cozy Scottish pub with traditional pub fare and a large selection of single-malt whiskeys and beer. 2913 N. Clark.
Frances’ Deli and Brunchery: This is a local institution since 1938 that serves traditional comfort food in an old-fashioned diner. I remember the original location at Clark and Arlington when I moved to the neighborhood in 1980. I just went back and enjoyed a great reuben sandwich. 2552 N. Clark.
Zebra Lounge: I recently went back to this classic Chicago Bar after many years. Located at 1220 N. State Pkwy, this piano bar has been an institution since 1929. The bar features live piano players seven nights a week starting at 9pm. It is a fun spot. I suggest going early to make sure you get a seat.
When in the South Loop or Printer’s Row, make sure to stop in at Kasey’s Tavern which is a casual, neighborhood bar that has been home to a bar since 1889. It is known for its beer and ciders and has a number on tap. 701 S. Dearborn.
Margie’s Candies: When in Logan Square make sure to head to 1960 N. Western at Armitage for wonderful home-made ice cream and candy. They have been there since 1921. The perfect decor looks like nothing has changed since it opened!! Expect long lines in the summer months.
I just went to Manny’s Coffee Shop & Deli at 1141 S. Jefferson for the first time. This is a classic Jewish deli and diner in Chicago’s South Loop dating from 1942. It is cafeteria-style, where you go through the line to pick your massive and delicious pastrami or meat sandwiches or an array of other hot dishes from the steam tables. It was recently redone, but still retains its old charm along with its decades-old newspaper clippings, photographs and letters from Chicago luminaries that line the walls. The space also now houses a new deli expansion for bagels, sweets, coffee, and food to go. You certainly won’t leave hungry!
After many years, I recently went back to Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse at 33 W. Kinzie at N. Dearborn. Just north of the Loop, it features steaks and Italian food in a classic setting that is filled with sports memorabilia and celebrity photos. Harry Caray, the famed sports announcer for the St. Louis Cardinals, the Oakland A’s, the Chicago White Sox and finally the Chicago Cubs from 1982 until his death in 1998. There are many photos of Harry and other sports figures, politicians and celebrities. This restaurant opened in 1987 and is now part of a group of seven restaurants and the Chicago Sports Museum. I had a great soup along with the crab cake.
The restaurant is located in an historic building from 1895 designed in the Dutch Renaissance style of architecture. In the past it was home to the notorious enforcer of the Al Capone gang, Frank Nitti. He lived in an apartment on the fourth floor with his wife Annette, who’s family owned the building. Make sure to walk downstairs from the bar to Nitti’s Vault. This room was used as a hideout during the Prohibition era as well as a passageway to Chicago’s underground tunnel system, allowing Nitti and his associates to come and go without being seen on the streets of Chicago. You can still see the safe that once contained the names, home addresses and phone numbers of powerful government officials and mobsters. You can also see a number of framed photographs and newspapers on the walls of the vault. There was also a former speakeasy in a secret room behind a bookcase. It is a fun experience!
I recently went back to La Scarola Restaurant after several years years. This is a classic Italian restaurant located at 721 W. Grand Ave. that has been there for almost 20 years. The atmosphere is a classic that features many photos and murals. The menu is extensive with a large number of Italian specialties from starters, pastas and entrees. I really enjoyed the veal marsala, sauteed spinach and the friend calamari. It is a great spot for a family or group outing. Just make sure to make a reservation before you go.
A fun spot to try is Buddy Guy’s Legends, a classic blues club at 700 S. Wabash. I went recently for the first time with a friend from Mexico who was in town on business. I wanted him to experience a true Chicago tradition. They offer music seven nights a week along with New Orleans-inspired food. I loved the atmosphere and the music!
Erie Cafe. is a classic Chicago steakhouse. Located in River North along the North Branch of the Chicago River, it has been a popular spot since 1994. I thought the food and service were very good. The portions are huge so you can definitely share a pasta or an entree. I met friends there for dinner. It is good spot for a group or family outing! 536 W. Erie.
After seeing it from the CTA’s Brown Line train, I made a point to try Boni Vino Ristorante & Pizzeria. This is a classic Italian spot from 1967 that features pastas, sandwiches and pizza. I enjoyed my chicken vesuvio and a side of mostaccioli marinara along with the warm atmosphere and service. 111 W. Van Buren St.