Mercat brings Catalan cuisine to the South Loop.
Printer's Row, part of the South Loop by the Harrison Red Line, may be known for its literary past, but there's a whole lot more to love in the present - including martinis, pigs and classic jazz. If you're really looking to pore over a good book, well, you can find that, too.
Best of the nightlife
Villains Bar & Grill
The first thing you'll notice when walking into this establishment is the bar, decorated in multiple prints of Andy Warhol's classic image of a gun-toting Elvis Presley, which sets the theme. The next thing you'll see? Drink specials galore, especially on the weekends. Try a heavy-duty martini, and soak some of it up with the enormous Garbage burger, featuring bacon, avocado and caramelized onions.
Good for groups
Mercat a la Planxa
Cheap it ain't, but this tapas hotspot in the Blackstone Hotel is a great spot for a lively gathering, with tons of food options (the bacon-wrapped dates are always a hit, but that's just the beginning) and creative cocktails to boot. If you don't want to spend half an hour trying to pick and choose your way through the menu, go for the chef's tasting ($55/person) or, for a real special occasion, the cochinillo asado - a whole roasted suckling pig carved tableside (must order 72 hours in advance).
Standing Room Only (SRO)
From the outside, this spot may not look like much more than a small restaurant with some casual tables inside and out, but don't discount the menu before you've taken your first bite. The fries are crisp and crinkled, the cheeseburgers are rich and there are a number of vegetarian options, such as salads and a very tasty portabella mushroom sandwich with garlic-infused spinach. A fries, drink and a sandwich meal will run you about $8; it's a bargain but not so low that it discourages some of Chicago's most notable citizens from stopping by. (It's rumored that Mayor Daley enjoys an SRO turkey burger now and again.)
Where to chill
Printer's Row Fine and Rare Books
This store contains an immensely sophisticated collection (a 1780 edition of "Don Quixote," for instance), and an owner who'll happily talk to you about all of it for as long as you can stand - or sit. A large reading table, glowing fireplace and antique-looking lamps make the shop itself feel more like a collector's study than a bookstore, which is actually kind of what it is.
Unlike the typical smoky, cramped, dingy confines of most jazz clubs, Joe Segal's famed club (which moved to this tucked-away location a few years back) is a comfortable, candle-lit space with ample tables and wide aisles. The focus is on the players and not the decor. While you can still catch the occasional legend like saxophonist Von Freeman blowing on a Saturday night, the Showcase long ago opened its doors to young lions respectful to the genre such as Nicholas Payton and Joshua Redman. There's no minimum drink requirement, though tickets will set you back $20-$25.
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