C+J Chicago
surf globally, pour locally, drink responsibly
December 2012

Lincoln Park - Chicago
By Colin Joliat

There might be more bar seats than there are residents in Lincoln Park...

Sure there are 64,000 people in the neighborhood, ranging from wealthy life-long Chicago families to current DePaul University students, but there are more than enough joints to quench all of their thirst. I can only scrape the surface for you, but armed with a few good ideas you can fearlessly begin your exploration of one of Chicago's most popular neighborhoods.

Some idiot once decided we should "save the best for last," but I refuse to live by another man's rules. The best bar in Lincoln Park is Barrelhouse Flat. In a neighborhood dominated by fake Irish pubs and college bars, Barrelhouse Flat towers over the rest like the Trump does the Chicago River. Their cocktail program is top notch, with an excellent selection of creatives to compliment the classics. I'm not just talking about a Manhattan and Old Fashioned either. The drink list has more than sixty ways to get you drunk the way your grandfather did. Freshness is stressed, as is evidenced by their use of seasonal ingredients and fresh squeezed juices. I would feel bad for the unfortunate soul who's stuck juicing hundreds of limes if my tongue didn't tell me that their labor was well worth it. Perennial Virant has an excellent, albeit short, cocktail list, but the real story right now is thirteen floors up at the rooftop bar, J. Parker.
Lincoln Park is more than twice the size of New York's Central Park and a lot more accessible to residents of the city. The park runs for six miles alongside Lake Michigan and covers twelve hundred acres. In the summer the lawns are strewn with sunbathers, picnickers and families playing games.
The main selling point is the incredible views of Lake Michigan and the park for which the neighborhood is named. While that may get you in the door the first time, the drinks will have you coming back time and again. The cocktail menu is centered around destinations that rotate every few months. Thus far Mexico, Spain, and Cuba have provided the inspiration. All cocktails are $13, so the crowd is what you might expect at the price point. It's a sophisticated bunch with no lack of presence from the corporate crowd. As the trendy new guy on the block, it's best to make a reservation or show up early.

If a view isn't all that important but you do love sitting outside, Zella is home to what's likely the neighborhood's best beer garden. Don't be fooled by the name, beer garden is just the Chicago term for fenced-in patio. There's nothing special about the drinks, which are served in plastic cups, but they are more than sufficient for a day of outdoor drinking. The lively space is surrounded by trees and ivy almost to the point where you forget that you're in the middle of a city. The eclectic patrons ranges from post-Cubs game partiers to groups of adults looking to soak in the last weeks of sun and relative warmth.

When when the sun goes down for the year, there's nothing quite like a margarita to pretend you aren't staring down 5 months of misery. While Tarascas is much more restaurant than bar, they see plenty of people looking for nothing more than to down drinks and snack on chips and salsa. You might want that full meal though if you are going to tackle their signature 45.5-ounce margarita. You can make it however you like, from traditional to fruity and from well to high quality tequila, just be sure to bring a spare liver. The 'rita is so good that you'll seriously consider taking your night up to 91-ounces of fun.

Every now and then we like to trade in our highball glass for something with a stem. That's when a stop into D.O.C. Wine Bar is in order. Their prices span the spectrum with options to please Dr. McMoneybags the wine snob as well as a young guy who's hopelessly lost trying to impress a girl without breaking the bank. Their pre-selected flights are a good way to try something new without worrying you'll waste your money with an errant selection. With wines coming from all over the grape-growing earth, you'll certainly come across many that are completely foreign to you.

Don't be fooled by the first few options presented; they don't represent the makeup of the majority of Lincoln Park's watering holes. As stated before, the area is full of pubs and basic bars. Most carry a collegiate allegiance to coax in sports fans for Saturday afternoon football or mid-week basketball games. Michigan schools dominate the scene, but someone will gladly play your fight song in exchange for a group of friends' off-hour intoxication. Stanley's Kitchen and Tap is one of those. It's home to the Texas Longhorn faithful, but long after the fans go home, the bar remains a hot spot for those looking to casually drink among friendly people. You'll especially enjoy it if you're a fan of American whiskey, as they have a solid selection behind the bar. It's a notorious hangout for Chicago's pro athletes, but don't rush in looking for autographs. The reason the familiar faces love the bar is the unwritten rule that you don't bother them. If you happen to be out like a degenerate on a Sunday night, may want to dust off the old pipes and try your hand at karaoke.

The makeup of the bar scene in Lincoln Park is appropriate given it's unique array of denizens. Casual collegiate may win the numbers game, but there are plenty of classy joints for those looking to keep a monocle up or pinky out. You can't go wrong with any of these bars, but never stop exploring.

Lincoln Park is no slouch when it comes to food. The neighborhood is home to Alinea, the #2 restaurant in the world. To call it dinner would be akin to referring to the Mona Lisa as a coloring. It's truly an art experience for your nose and mouth. Unfortunately, Chef Grant Achatz $800 dinner date isn't in the cards for most people. There are plenty of other places to take that special someone though, and my favorite is Rose Angelis. This northern Italian restaurant is a favorite among locals, and luckily just started taking reservations after years of first-come-first-served. It's off the beaten path in a converted house, so it's truly a unique place to eat. And while the pasta is fantastic, I can never get away from ordering the Zuppa di Pesce. Something about a seafood party in a pot is irresistible.

For something quick and easy, you can't go wrong at The Counter: Custom Built Burgers. Well, you could, but it would be your own fault. There are 312,120 different combonations you can create to make the perfect burger (beef, chicken, turkey, veggie). Yes, it's a chain restuarant, but Oprah declared it to be her favorite burger, and we know better than to argue with big O! The fact that they have an excellent selection of craft beers and boozy milkshakes doesn't hurt either.

The makeup of the scene in Lincoln Park is appropriate given it's unique array of denizens. Casual collegiate may win the numbers game, but there are plenty of classy joints for those looking to keep a monocle up or pinky out. You can't go wrong at any of these places, but never stop exploring.

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