Famous for Division-based debauchery and gold-standard Gold Coast eateries like Gibson's, Hugo's, Carmine's and Tavern on Rush, Clark and Division proves a scintillating stop for L-hoppers. Beyond the array of talked-about tourist traps this Red Line star hosts a range of restaurants that please regardless of cash situation or culinary predilection. At Clark and Division, you'll find hoppin' breakfast spots, truly impressionante Italian goods and an Irish pub where the chef wears a stark white uniform.
Best of the nightlife
A neon sign in the window says: "Open 365 days a year." Judging from the throngs of loyal bar-hoppers that seem to live at this place, Dublin's is packed all 365 of those days. A short, almost cottage-like building, Dublin's manages to hold its own in the vicinity of Gold Coast bad boys Hugo's and Tavern on Rush, owed in part to food that's shoulders above what one would expect from a raucous Irish pub.
Beyond a few corned-beef-and-cabbage staples from the Emerald Isle, cooks in the open kitchen don downy chef hats and stir up fresh salads bursting with gourmet ingredients like scallops and bleu cheese; fancy, baked-brie appetizers and a variety of steak and chicken options. Plus, Dublin's kitchen stays open as late as the bar, beating the Rock n' Roll McDonald's for late-night fare, hands-down. If you decide to forego the cushy green booths and gourmet menu, head straight for a spot at the U-shaped bar and cozy up with a variety of pint-pounders ordering up Guinness and Newcastle while sports fanatics keep all eyes on the joint's multiple TV screens.
Good for groups
Dave & Buster's
This Chuck-E-Cheese for adults is located on the western edge of the Gold Coast. Here, one can hit the massive midway of games, pumping token after token into the video race-car and motorcycle-riding simulators. D & B's also features pool, bowling, numerous other video and carnival-style games, multiple bars and a decent menu of bar food. Drinks are hefty in price and skimpy in size. Games usually run two to four tokens.
Comedy Zone Chicago, located in a Vegas-style showroom within Dave & Buster's, features two shows every Friday and Saturday night: the Dinner Show (8 p.m., $49.95 per person) features a buffet and the Cocktail Show (10 p.m., $36 per person) includes two drinks.
This 24-year old purveyor of provolone and other straight-out-of-Italy goods claims to be Chicago's first "authentic" Italian deli. Located at the foot of the Hancock building, L'Appetito gives lunch-timers a mini-taste of Italy. A bakery counter to the left is loaded with sweet temptations like gelato, cookies, cakes and pastries and boasts a big ol' cappuccino machine. Behind the bakery and nestled between murals of street scenes, a small area provides cafeteria-style seating for those who have made a visit to the back, where a deli counter slices and scoops up a legion of lunchtime fare.
Go ethnic with the Spicy Submarine (capicollo, salami, mortadella, provolone, olive oil and spices stacked up on slices of Italian bread) or stay close to home with a turkey and cheese American Classic, both $5.50. Paninis, tostinos (grilled sandwiches) and an always-changing selection of pastas, pizzas, soups and salads round out the deli menu. If take-home is more your style, check out the shelves of gourmet groceries. Look for Nutella, bottles of wine, packages of homemade ravioli, Italian cookies and dark roast coffee. Bonus tip: L'Appetito opens its doors at 7:30 every morning and is rumored to serve a mean breakfast; go for the $2.75 egg, cheese and bacon panini.
Where to chill
When you think of a bar, do you think martinis and jazz-fusion or beer and old rock? If it's the latter, you'll be all right at one of P.J. Clarke's three locations. Recently opened outposts in Streeterville and Lincoln Park reflect the spirit of the original Gold Coast location, and all are proudly in the tradition of the dependable neighborhood joint. Pony up to the long bar and choose from an impressive variety of imported and domestic brews, or pick your poison from the extensive booze selection, which is particularly endowed in the single malt scotch department. And hey, if you want that martini after all, they'll whip one up for you; no hard feelings. Despite the local watering-hole aesthetic, the crowd is more young-and-looking-for-love than solemnly sipping, particularly on the weekends.
Finding a space with dim lighting (the more flattering to be seen by) and a low level of noise (the better to hear your date by) can be difficult in the bastion of packed-silly spots that flood the Gold Coast. Tsunami, tucked safely off the State Street strip, provides just such a restaurant experience. Two separate dining rooms come color-coded: the "bronze room," best for groups, offers linen-topped tables enclosed in golden-hued walls. For a more intimate setting, score a booth in the dark-hued "red room." Or cozy up in the upstairs sake lounge, a space full of plush furniture and walls made of Japanese screens. Finally, if you like to watch the sushi chefs rollin' their magic concoctions, grab one of about 10 seats next to the sushi bar.
On the menu look for with-frills appetizers like the tuna tataki (shitake mushrooms, asparagus tips and seaweed with sesame oil and teriyaki) and asparagus beef rolls served with teriyaki glaze, both $9. Maki selections have your favorites covered, sided by more adventurous creations to tempt the daring diner: Look for the $7.50 Q-Maki, a no-rice blend of shrimp, scallops and kani kama with spicy sauce.