When Bennigan's went bankrupt in July 2008, it left all those looking for an Irish-themed version of Applebee's out of luck. But when a new management firm came to the rescue and bought the company a few months later, this Michigan Avenue location across from the Art Institute
was one of the first to reopen, complete with a refurbishing and a new attitude. Now, Bennigan's wants to focus on being a venerable neighborhood hangout, a place to watch the game and munch on upscale bar food.
Along with the new ownership comes a new menu, one with a heavier emphasis on sandwiches and appetizers. The most peculiar new dishes are an egg roll-looking snack called stogies, filled with sirloin, chicken or Buffalo wings, perfect for dipping into ranch sauce. Bennigan's take on slammers, B-bites, also make an appearance -- consider replacing the beef patty with tender pot roast. Bigger entrees have their place, too, like the bacon cheeseburger brushed with Guinness Stout glaze (the perfect food complement to a tall glass of Guinness).
While this redone Bennigan's retains its "tons of junk of thewall" method of decorating things, the most noticeable change is a clear surge in plasma TVs, somewhat contradicting the humble Irish pub image they were looking to conjure. The TVs are impossible to miss from just about any table. Heck, they're even mini-TVs over each stall in the washroom -- so no more missing the big play because you have to relieve yourself! A news ticker over the bar informs patrons of sports scores and stock market quotes ("Doggone it, my stocks and my favorite team both lost big. I'm going to need another order of buffalo wings ... ").
Even with the changes, Bennigan's doesn't considerably distance itself from its competitors or come across as something of a neighborhood hangout, but with a new menu, it's at least a decent standby after hitting up the Institute.
Average cost: $10-$20
Centerstage Reviewer: Andy Seifert