South Loop meets Bermuda Triangle

08/29/2012 10:00 PM

BONNIE McGRATH

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It seems like there is a new and improved “Bermuda Triangle” in the heart of the South Loop. A new trio of places at 14th and Michigan to drink, eat, meet people, hear the news, enhance your emotions and have a good time.

In the heyday of Chicago journalism, there was a Bermuda Triangle in Chicago that stretched from Hubbard and Rush to North Avenue, near Wells. But it was pretty much for journalists and their hangers-on. It was dangerous and exciting to spend an evening in the three boozy havens that made up The Bermuda Triangle.

The evening always began at the famous Riccardo’s at 437 N. Rush — a great place for spotting famous wordsmiths. It was a semi-classy restaurant with Ivan Albright paintings over the bar, strong martinis on the bar and very smart talk at the bar. The restaurant is still there — and now owned by Phil Stefani.

Next, the drinkers at Ric’s went to Old Town, to a bar called O’Rourke’s at 319 W. North Ave., where the talk got smarter in some ways, dumber in others. It was a saloon where the beer flowed, along with talk of future dreams that could come true, or the resurrection of old grudges that would never die. It was the kind of a place two journos could walk into (drunk), be told by a famous broadcaster like Mary Laney (also drunk, and an exquisite, intrepid and tireless reporter at Channel 2) that they belonged together; and within a short time both parties would divorce, marry each other and have a kid. Because they believed in Mary’s integrity, insight and good sense. (O’Rourke’s is a Flat Top Grill now.)

Last but not least, the final stop was the Old Town Ale House — still kicking at 219 W. North Ave. these days under new ownership. It was dirty, fun and dangerous. If you got that far on any given night, you were lucky if you didn’t get mugged, get exposed to an STD — or receive a marriage proposal from the guy Mary Laney thought you should be with forever.

But back to the South Loop. If you have been in any way connected to news of our neighborhood lately, then you know there are three restaurant/bars that are getting a lot of publicity. The three are clustered near the intersection of 14th and Michigan. And as I have experienced each one (one even three times), read the reviews from all points of view and thought hard about this geographical and ideological juxtaposition of new joints, I’ve said to myself … “my goodness, this could be another Bermuda Triangle right here in the South Loop.”

Minus the journalists.

Since my peers are older now, it’s nice to have the ability to travel to three places without having to drive drunk, pay a cab driver who might spin you around a few times to make some extra cash, or walk too far on the mean streets of Chicago. Three cool places around a common intersection in the neighborhood is the way to go for us aging hipsters.

First, and in no particular order is City Tavern at 1416 S. Michigan. (For the time being, the three can be visited in any order before the ultimate decision of which should be first, second and third for posterity.) This restaurant has the best PR mechanism I have ever seen, having landed on several “top 5” lists and such in the magazines, blogs, etc. before even opening. It has great draft beer (some with enormous alcohol content) and very interesting food from well-decorated beets to rich creme brûlée. And it’s geared to make you feel like you are back in the original 13 colonies. What more can you ask? It’s noisy, though, unless you sit on a couch near the fireplace, outdoors on South Michigan Avenue at a sort-of picnic-type table, or eat in the washrooms upstairs, which are very quiet.

Next up is Square One a few doors north at 1400 S. Michigan. This place looks like the inside of “I Dream of Jeannie’s” bottle. Very high ceiling, very rich and textured decor. But a very small footprint and a very small menu. It bills itself as a do-it-yourself wine bar, but I swear when I was there I only saw people drinking beer in bottles and fancy cocktails made with St. Germain liqueur. Which led to my finding out that my new neighborhood friend Bruce is actually descended from the family of St. Germain in France, which led to an hour reading aloud her do-gooder bio on my smartphone at the bar one evening, while drinking St. Germain with cucumbers in it (one of the fancy cocktail ideas at Square One), which led to us having an outstanding time. The outdoors looks comfy, too — and very hip.

Which brings me to the last stop of the new Bermuda Triangle: Alain’s at 1355 S. Michigan, which may actually turn out to be a good first stop when the idea catches on. It’s run by a renowned chef and a famous football player. It has fancy food with some African touches, like a dense dinner roll that is the rage in African villages. It also offers rabbit on its menu. Reviewers like the place a lot: It has a yellow gauzy look in a small space that is soothing and peaceful. But they all kind of say that Alain’s needs more of a solid identity. Fish. Or fowl. African. Or Continental. Casual. Or fancy. A problem that I believe is easily solved. Its identity should be this: One of Three Stops in the New Bermuda Triangle.

But wait. Prairie District Bruce, who took my reference to the Bermuda Triangle literally and as a firm geographic one recently, had another scientific reference at the ready. A celestial one. “Pleiades,” he said. “The Seven Sisters.” Which is a conglomeration of seven stars clustered together in outer space. He seemed to think there is much more on this strip at/near 14th and Michigan than the three newcomers. He wants to add four more to the mix: Weather Mark Tavern, South Coast Sushi, Waffles and The Chicago Firehouse. All within a stone’s throw.

And I do like the idea. Seven spots in a night augmenting one’s emotions, the vast possibilities for victuals and libations — and each atmosphere quite different at every spot. A progressive dine-out that the places could call their own. And that we South Loop residents could really get into — and out of without getting mugged, marred or married.

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By M Heyen from South Loop
Posted: 08/30/2012 3:05 PM

Bonnie, this is a great review! I planned to blog about my experiences at City Tavern and Square One, but your article is so on point and funny I'll just have to send our readers your way. The new restaurants in the South Loop are very exciting!