"Chicago is getting its Moxie back," or so says restaurateur Chris Lefferdink, whose reopened Moxie out-swanks its Irish pub and greasy-spoon neighbors. The Golden Tee-free interior blends soft colors into one another like a latte-hued sunset: cream gives way to tan with accents of espresso-dark brown. Curved ceilings and circular lamps take the edge off exposed steel beams and closely spaced square tables.
Neatly tucked in, oftentimes striped button-downs foil the hood's baseball-cap/yellow bracelet uniform. The cuisine reflects this forget-beer-in-plastic-cups approach. Indeed, Christopher Swan (not Oscar Meyer) runs the kitchen at Moxie. A 17-year kitchen veteran, Swan's favorite cooking techniques (fire-roasting, caramelizing and touches of truffle oil) do not include generous squirts of relish and mustard.
Contemporary European-style tapas pep up the menu. Traditional bar food steps aside to make way for the bleu cheese portabella (a whole mushroom marinated in balsamic vinegar and olive oil, stuffed with blue cheese and plated with a roasted shallot cream sauce) and Chinese onion rings served with a Szechwan barbeque dipping sauce. Other options include goat cheese bruschetta, white bean hummus and peppercorn-encrusted filet of beef. Four dishes shouldn't cost you much more than $40.
The crowd may have lost the Cracker Jacks but they haven't lost the Wrigleyville rowdiness. Between the animated conversation of fellow diners and the restaurant's sultry soundtrack (expect to hear tunes from the likes of Jem, Dido and Zero 7) you'll have to raise your voice to talk to your dining partner. This isn't the place for a date, but it may just be the place to find one, as two bars, one at the front of the restaurant, the other at the back, allow for martini-fueled flirting. Bartenders shake up some mean specialty drinks; the white cosmo is the house specialty. Red, white and cranberry-apple sangria, microbrew beers and an extensive wine list wind out a bar roster that's more than a smidge yummier than that can of Old Style.
Average cost: $10-$20
Centerstage Reviewer: Jennifer Berg