Why do I not go to Greektown more? It's really not far from downtown—you can probably walk there if you work in the Loop—or my home in the South Loop. Still, I rarely go Greek.
And it's not like there's nothing here: For one, many of the neighborhood restaurants offer free valet parking (Parthenon and Athena Restaurant, to name two). Others, like Pegasus, offer jaw-dropping rooftop views, which, like so many things in life, are even more striking when accompanied by a creamy, yogurt-cucumber dip.
And, for the thrifty, some local eateries even offer daily specials, such as the $3 appetizer menu at Venus Greek-Cypriot Cuisine, 820 W. Jackson. Open since September 2004, Venus carved its own niche in neighborhood by featuring Greek with a Middle-Eastern flair (the island of Cypriot is near the Turkey, Syria and Lebanon coasts, which has apparently inspired some serious inter-country recipe-swapping) such as koupepia, vine leaves stuffed with ground pork and rice.
If you don't know it already, Greek food makes for great cocktail accompaniment because it's easily divisible among a group and typically includes several dips. (I have convinced myself that even if you didn't prepare the food, putting it on a pita can really make you feel involved in the cooking process.)
Fortunately, Venus is a great place to have a cocktail. Big windows let in lots of light, and on the day I stopped in, the propped-open front door welcomed in a light breeze. The restaurant's multicolor decor offers an appeasing backdrop, with light-colored stone walls and a dark wood bar.
I liked Venus' look, but I liked the staff even more. The bartender was extremely attentive, even after her friends and cousin stopped in to say "hi." When I asked about the specials, I received a laminated menu of $3 appetizers like hummus and calamari. I happily ordered up a round of saganaki (flaming cheese) and melitzanosalata, which is a ginormous word for eggplant spread. It wasn't the tangiest I've had, but it was good: a little chunky and lightly sweet. And, in addition to pita, the bartender brought over a loaf of incredibly tasty, crusty bread to spread it on.
I was relieved when the staff quickly set the saganaki on fire and placed it in front of me without any hazards. (When I was 17, I worked in a restaurant where I had to pour brandy on cheese and light it on fire, and given my lack of coordination, it's amazing I made it to college with my face unmarred.) The saganaki was one of the most delicious I've had: perfectly browned but easy to cut and super salty. My awe for Greece was reborn. I briefly considered driving to my parents' house to find my high school copy of The Odyssey>…I instead ate more cheese.
In addition to the snacks, Venus also offers drinks at a steal-rate. My hearty glass of pinot grigio only cost $6 and tasted smooth and full—none of that dusty, bitter, "I-might-be-ammonia" flavor the more reasonable wines sometimes have. House Greek white and red varieties are also available for $5.
The best thing about Venus' happy hour? It's every day, Monday to Friday, so if your week goes sour, you can turn it into a reasonably-priced bender (with snacks) fairly quickly. But there is a catch: The deal lasts from 4-6 p.m., so if you're tied down by that cumbersome career thing, you'll have to hurry after work. You may also have to ask for the specials menu.
Curious? Check out Venus' deal for yourself nightly from 4-6 p.m. at 820 W. Jackson or visit www.venuschicago.com for more details.
Erin Brereton is our resident urban cowgirl on a bi-weekly search for life on the cheap. If you know of the mythic happy hour that she missed, do clue her in.