There are many Chicagoans who get off at the Ashland stop only when heading to an event at Union Park (like the popular Pitchfork Music Festival). But take the train there on a less-busy day, and you'll find there's more to the area than water bottle-hawkers and clogged streets. Our guide will help you explore both adjacent 'hoods: the upscale West Loop and the grittier River West.
Best of the nightlife
Above-average bar food? Check. Tons of beers to choose from? Check. Live music? But of course. The resurrection of this infamous rock club has been welcomed with open arms by West Loopers in need of lots of different kinds of entertainment (we haven't even mentioned the second-level Volcano Room, a tiki-themed rum bar). The main draw is the music - instead of the typical rotating group of cover bands, you'll find a regular lineup of longtime rockers and up-and-coming indie acts.
Good for groups
From about two blocks away — where Alhambra's glowing red sign and massive copper turrets are plainly visible — it's clear that subtlety is not on the menu at this seven-room Moroccan restaurant. The owners were aiming for the most palatial experience outside of the real Alhambra in Spain, and they deliver. The center of the restaurant, crowned in a 35-foot high, copper-laden ceiling, sits up to 450 people. There's also a bar, a formal dining room wrapped in hand-carved walls, a 6,000-square-foot banquet hall holding 300-400 people, and two sky box rooms. Moroccan and French fare dominates the menu, with entrees like chicken a la Marakesh (slowly cooked chicken breast smothered in a pomegranate-walnut sauce) and the Alhambra Palace kabobs, which come with beef, chicken, mustard-glazed veggies or shrimp.
Gaudi Coffee and Grill
You might think this is a simple coffee shop upon entering - but you'll think differently once the friendly wait staff hands you the colossal menu. Inside, you'll find everything from omelets ($6.50) to chilaquiles ($8.95), burgers ($7.50-$9.50) to salads ($6.50-$8.50) and even tapas (starting around $5). Good luck choosing.
Where to chill
Formerly a showroom for owner John Dymond's art, this spot made the jump to coffeehouse when community members pleaded for a comfortable spot to sit and sip. When Jupiter met the challenge, appreciation began spilling in from locals and area artists who had tables, chairs and coolers to spare. Other contributions, such as fresh roses adorning the cafe, are sporadic gifts from doting neighbors. In a small aquarium near the back, visitors can find the house mascot, a 10-year-old Red Eared Slider turtle named Bebe — admirers volunteer to refresh the tank weekly and, if she's lucky, plod down to the docks. Check out original oil on canvas from local artists (and Mars Gallery
mainstays), or stop in for a quiche with green onions, a cup of Vietnamese coffee or a slice of its homemade—and other-worldly—rum cake.
Unlike most breakfast spots in the city, Ina's brick-and-timber former industrial confines offer plenty of space to spread out for your morning nosh. And what a nosh it'll be - especially if you get the signature corn scrapple filled with spicy sausage and eggs, and or the gingerbread and sour cream pancakes. Halfway through your meal, the breakfast queen herself, Ina Pinkney (sporting a frilly halo of white hair), will most likely make her way to your table for a motherly pat on the back or some quick conversation. It's the same for lunch and dinner, except at these meals you'll find an assortment of classic Southern fare like fried chicken (available gluten-free!) and pulled pork.
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