A Squared: Thirsty Thursday: Happy Hour in the Loop

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Thirsty Thursday: Happy Hour in the Loop

TGI Thursday, friends! I could use a glass of wine... and you?

The Chicago Loop is packed with drinking and dining options from a variety of pubs and sports bars to fast casual places perfect for dining on the go to more old school fine dining spots perfect for the pre-theater or business dinner crowd. When I am meeting people after work though, there are a few things that I am looking for: a great drink list, a laidback atmosphere (I don't need to push through a crowded bar after a long day at the office), and some solid menu options for snacking. Today, I am sharing three spots in the Loop that check all of those boxes. Check them out the next time you're headed out for happy hour!


Despite it's prime location right on busy Wacker Drive, Hoyt's Tavern is a surprisingly low key tavern and lounge with great views for people watching and convenient location for travelers as it is in the ground level of the Wyndham Grand Chicago Waterfront (formerly the Hotel 77). Alex and I met up here after work one evening for a few drinks and some food and we were both pleasantly surprised by the menu. The menu focuses on Midwest ingredients and dishes that are traditionally served in this region, slightly elevated.

One such item is the fried cheese curd. Alex and I began our love affair with fried cheese curds once we moved to Chicago a few years ago and have made it a mission to order them anytime we find them on a menu. Hoyt's preparation was particularly good. The white cheddar curds are locally sourced from Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery and were well seasoned and the crispy breading adhered to the curd (don't you just hate when they fall apart on you?). To top it all off, they were served with a deliciously smoky bacon ketchup and I could not get enough of it!

Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery
Ellsworth Cooperative Creamerywere crispy, well seasoned, and the bre

I'm also a sucker for a good cheese and/or charcuterie plate-- especially when a restaurant puts their own signature twist on it. I loved pretty much everything on Hoyt's mixed board (you can also get separate cheese or charcuterie boards here too): Assorted meats from La Quercia (like duck prosciutto!), locally sourced cheeses, pickled veggies, crispy flatbreads, and my favorite part: condiments. I'm a firm believer that condiments can make or break a charcuterie board-- or really, any dish. This board included a delicious grainy mustard and a sweet date and whiskey compote that were super tasty and worked so nicely with the variety of meats and cheeses.
Red wine apple jam, date and whiskey compote

Last, but not least-- a little something sweet. Until this evening, Alex had (gasp) never had monkey bread before so I made sure to order some at Hoyt's. Their monkey bread was sweet and chewy and  served warm with a selection of three different dipping sauces (3 for 3 on dishes with great condiments!): Salted pistachio caramel, mixed berry sauce, and my favorite-- a buttermilk anglaise.
Hoyt's Chicago on Urbanspoon

Rittergut Wine Bar & Social Club

Rittergut is literally a hidden gem in the Loop. When my friend Alexis and I decided to meet up there after work (because we love a good wine flight), it took some time to find this place. Rittergut is tucked quietly into a building on Wacker Drive and opens up on to the Chicago River. Walking in, you feel almost transported into an old European wine cellar from the big modern building lobby you enter to get there. Rittergut serves an amazing selection of international and domestic wines-- from the familiar to the more obscure. The flights are themed-- by type, by region, or by season, and it was a really fun way for us to try some new to us wines. Rittergut is also where I was introduced to one of my new favorites: Lambrusco, a sparkling Italian red wine.

Rittergut also serves up a food menu with a little bit of everything-- small plates, flatbreads, and main plate entrees. Alexis and I decided to share a few snacks while we chatted over wine and started with one of my favorite appetizers: Arancini. At Rittergut these fried risotto balls are served with a fresh tasting San Marzano tomato sauce and a drizzle of flavorful basil pesto oil. I love that arancini are such a perfect mix of cheesy and crispy and gooey and the combination of brightly flavored sauces really balanced out that richness nicely.

We also ordered a charcuterie plate here and were given the option to select our own assortment of meats and cheeses. Talk about overwhelming! We had so much fun perusing the menu and selecting a few favorites and a few new items to try. The highlights for us were definitely the jamon Serrano (with manchego cheese, of course), the stagberry-- and elk salami with blueberries and honey, and a super creamy and funky French blue cheese.
Rittergut on Urbanspoon

Randolph Tavern

Newer to the Loop bar scene, Randolph Tavern has quickly become a popular spot amongst the work, tourist, and theater crowds because of it's uber convenient location (right at the corner of Randolph and Wells), it's huge space, and it's wide variety of food and beverage options. I stopped in for lunch with colleagues on a day that happened to be during one of the big World Cup matches and as you can see in the photo below, Randolph Tavern was the place to be!

The menu here is part Midwestern pub fare and part southern smokehouse/BBQ joint. With that in mind, I decided to order the smoked chicken & avocado tacos. Four tortillas were piled high with tender smoked chicken, generous slices of avocado, a tangy cabbage slaw, and were topped off with Randolph Tavern's sweet and smoky root beer barbecue sauce. It was a perfect lunch and would be the perfect happy hour snack for sharing too!
Randolph Tavern on Urbanspoon

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