So, you’ve snagged a couple coveted Hamilton tickets. Now only one crucial question remains: where to eat before (or after) the show?
Booth One: Lettuce Entertain You’s gorgeous remake of the storied Pump Room onsite at the Ambassador Chicago Hotel makes for a sultry (and convenient!) start. The revived space exudes both classic Chicago decadence and youthful vibrancy across the cream- and gold-accented dining room and bar/lounge beneath silvery orb lights. Chef Doug Psaltis’ playful takes on classic American dishes include decadent lobster cappuccino, scallops draped in caviar sauce, and beef wellington, mirroring a cocktail menu of modernized classics, including a can’t-miss apple martini (trust us).
That being said, if you’re after a taste of the theater district instead, Chicago’s entire downtown is fortunately in the midst of a dining and drinking renaissance, with a plethora chef-driven openings to choose from—many as the centerpieces of gorgeous rehabs of iconic downtown buildings. That’s not to say every spot on this list is new, however. A handful of standbys will guarantee you a meal as special as the show. Plus, they’re no strangers to accommodating theater-going crowds. Behold: our six favorite picks for theater district dining.
This sexy, lively tavern on the ground floor of the Block 37 has quickly become one of the city’s toughest reservations (take note, and book in advance). Spearheaded by sisters Amy and Cloddagh Lawless, daughters of restaurateur Billy Lawless, The Dearborn doles out enticing modern tavern fare from exec chef Aaron Cuschieri, from bracing ceviches to Midwest fried chicken and pan-roasted salmon inside handsome, architectural digs. Sip on a festive Hamilton The Cocktail, a shaken gin, citrus and honey drink with a lightly bitter backbone of cocchi americano and suze gentiane. And don’t skip pastry chef Julianna Westgor’s whimsical desserts, like the throwback sticky toffee pineapple cake.
145 N. Dearborn St.
Heaven on Seven
If you’re in the mood for something more casual but no less iconic, take the elevator to the seventh floor of the Garland Building on Wabash for a short escape to New Orleans. At Heaven on Seven, beloved chef Jimmy Bannos has been slinging authentic Louisiana eats for 38 years. Feast on Crescent City comforts like BBQ shrimp, oyster po boys, and Bannos’ famous gumbo amid colorful Mardi Gras beads, masks, and photos. Wash it all down with a cold Abita, and please don’t skip the rice pudding, which is Bannos’ late mother’s recipe.
111 N. Wabash Ave., 7th floor
Boleo and Vol. 39
Housed inside the historic New York Life Insurance building, the Kimpton Gray hotel is one of the most stunning building restorations of the current Loop renaissance, and a perfectly decadent way to start or end a night of theater. Tucked just off the lobby, you’ll find Vol. 39, a stylish Victorian library bar with gilded silver carts bearing martinis, caviar, and charcuterie for an opulent start. Then head 15 stories up to Boleo, an airy rooftop Peruvian restaurant/bar with quenching cocktails, bright ceviches, meaty skewers, and hearty South American staples served family style, like lomo saltado with yucca fries and jasmine rice.
Back when cool dining and innovative cocktails were scarce downtown, there was The Gage. Billy Lawless’ (Acanto, Coda di Volpe) lively eatery overlooking Millennium Park seems perpetually crowded, so expect a fair wait if you don’t book in advance. (Note: For a quieter meal, request a table in the more relaxed back dining room.) Start with a spicy, refreshing habanero margarita or one of almost rotating 20 draft beers. Bang-on pub classics from exec chef Christopher Gawronski anchor the menu, like Scotch eggs, Indian-spiced mussels and toast, and crisp, Guinness-battered fish and chips. Save room for Kym Delost’s clever yet comfy desserts, like the meyer lemon crumble bar with salted honey ice cream.
24 S. Michigan Ave.
Cochon Volant Brasserie
This three-year-old Franco-American brasserie exudes the kind of timeless warmth that’s made it a fast favorite among locals and tourists. Grab a seat at the marble-topped bar for delectable bites like escargot with blue cheese or the famous croque madame egg rolls. Or opt for more intimacy at a rustic round bistro table, where you’ll feast on French classics like onion soup, dry-aged steak frites with bearnaise sauce, and lemony half chicken. If you’re feeling theatrical, there’s a Hamilton-themed cocktail here, too. The “Ham”ilton packs a punch via Hennessy VS, molasses-like Batavia Arrack, bittersweet Averna liqueur, and orange bitters.
100 W. Monroe St.
This three-restaurants-in-one temple to Italian food and wine has fed downtown Chicago for over 90 years, one of just a handful of spots to flirt with a century in business. Each restaurant offers a different experience. The top-floor Village (the oldest of the three) serves up Italian-American classics like chicken vesuvio in a transportive space that recalls Tuscany in miniature. The theatrically decorated Vivere on the main floor specializes in handmade pastas like pheasant-filled agnolottini bathed in butter and sage, while grotto-like La Cantina downstairs is renowned for steaks and chops. Italian Village is also home to one of the city’s most impressive (and affordable) wine cellars, focused on Italian classics. With decades of practice, staff are particularly adept at accommodating pre- and post-show crowds.
24 S. Michigan Ave.
- Story by Maggie Hennessy