Are you heading to PACK EXPO 2016 in Chicago Nov. 6-9? We wish you a profitable, productive show but all work and no play is, well, no fun. Far better to combine business and pleasure, and we’ve compiled a sampling of Chicago’s most buzzworthy dining and nightlife spots to help you do just that.
Chicago Can't Miss Restaurants
First, let’s eat. After you’ve had your fill of Chicago-style hot dogs and pizza, check out a few of these restaurants, all good for hosting customer meetings or celebrating a successful day on the show floor. (All these had reservations available for PACK EXPO nights as of Oct.27, but you’ll want to secure a table ASAP.)
A contemporary take on the venerable Chicago steakhouse, GT Prime (707 N. Wells St.) presents the ultimate carnivore’s dilemma: Do you choose the luscious beef tenderloin, lamb loin, venison loin, bison tenderloin or skirt steak? But what about the short rib tortellini and tuna crudo? Luckily, you don’t have to choose. Executive chef Giuseppe Tentori likes the idea of communal, convivial dining and built the menu around shareable plates.
Unwind with clever cocktails and gussied-up versions of Chicago street food at the Duck Inn (2701 S. Eleanor St.). Must-trys include the duck fat dog, fried cheese curds with bloody Mary ketchup and rice cake fingers with kimchi sauce. If you don’t fill up on those, you’ll also find plenty of fine-dining options, from spot prawns to wagyu skirt steak. As for cocktails, the Batanga sounds like a perfect close to the day: It features an “excessive amount of Lunazul Blanco Tequila,” plus Mexican Pepsi and lime—all “stirred with a knife” and finished with a heavily salted rim. (Closed on Mondays, so make your dining plans accordingly.)
If there’s anything more associated with the city of Chicago than the Chicago Cubs, it’s Oprah Winfrey. Her former personal chef Art Smith is known for his Southern roots and passion for seasonal ingredients. At Blue Door Kitchen & Garden (52 W. Elm St.), entrees include lamb sirloin with chickpeas, yogurt sauce and radish, and seared diver sea scallops with sweet potato farina. In meat-obsessed Chicago, Smith’s virtuosity with veggies—like roasted beet and carrot with feta, lime and macadamia nut, or sweet potatoes glazed with sorghum and mustard seed—is appreciated.
El Che Bar (845 W. Washington Blvd.) is an elegant, sultry spot perfect for impressing but not intimidating your colleagues and customers. The Argentine-American eatery emphasizes grilled meats, seafood and vegetables, including a 10-ounce brick layer ribeye, charred quail with polenta, and bone-in salmon steak with dill salsa verde. The restaurant, with a stunning black marble bar, has the kind of intriguing cocktail menu that can instantly restore the weary spirits of both PACK EXPO exhibitors and attendees. Try the caramelized old fashioned or bitter mango fizz.
Interesting Chicago Nightlife
After dinner, it’s either back to the hotel or a night out. Come on: With Chicago’s rich live music, theater and bar scene, you’ve got to go out. Here are a few options, including some lesser-known venues:
It’s Chicago and that means the blues at Buddy Guy’s Legends (700 S. Wabash Ave.)—the eponymous club of the blues guitarist and singer. Plenty of food and drink on the menu but the live music is the draw. On schedule for PACK EXPO nights: Laura Rain (Nov. 6), Brother John Hosts the Jam (Nov. 7), Lazer Lloyd (Nov. 8) and Dave Specter (Nov. 9).
The kitschy, energetic tiki-themed bar Three Dots and a Dash (435 N. Clark St.) is a good place to warm up on a chilly November night. It quickly became a favorite Chicago hangout when it opened in 2013 and has a new bartender who has freshened up the menu with modern techniques (think liquid-nitrogen-blanched mint leaves and salt-foam toppings) to enliven the fruit and herb-based cocktails. Semi-private rooms available if you want to host a group.
Chicago has a rich sketch comedy scene, including The Second City improv club. For something a bit edgier, try Annoyance Theatre & Bar (851 W. Belmont Ave.), which promises “original plays, musicals, sketch comedy and more in a vibrant, uncensored atmosphere.” On the stage during PACK EXPO: “High & Mighty” a sketch review from the duo Reilly Willson and Shelby Quinn, and “Quite Right Tonight,” a mix of storytelling, performance art and comedy hosted by Ruby Western.
Don’t leave PACK EXPO without getting a sky-high view of the gorgeous host city. Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) (233 S. Wacker Drive) boasts the Skydeck, a 99th-floor, 360-degree view of the city and beyond. Another option is 360 Chicago on the 94th floor of the John Hancock building (875 N. Michigan Ave.) We like this option not only for Tilt—a row of enormous glass windows that tilt over the street below—but because it has better hours for people who are busy all day with a trade show. It’s open until 11 p.m., 365 days a year—perfect for a glittery, awe-inspiring end to the day.
For even more local entertainment and Chicago travel information visit the PACK Expo website.