Anyone who frequents the Red, Brown or Purple lines is familiar with the Belmont stop; it's a literal rite of passage. Travelers know they've arrived when the train pulls up to an eclectic crowd of Lincoln Park yuppies, tourists en route to Cubs games and multi-pierced and tattooed folks touting the area's popular punk aesthetic. Gently elbow your way across the platform and you'll find a mecca of shops, restaurants, bars and nightclubs painting a colorful Belmont strip.
Best of the nightlife
Though it's near enough to Wrigley Field to draw plenty of Cubs fans looking to strap on a serious pre-game buzz, this bar isn't a 24-7 sports haven. Most nights, you'll find a lax corner tap where twenty-somethings would rather schmooze over a mellow game of Uno at the vintage bar. The beer garden here is a Lakeview legend, spacious and generously shaded by a towering cottonwood, while a central hearth warms more intimate nooks in back throughout winter. But the pub's real acclaim stems from an awe-inspiring stock of ace microbrews (you can see them all in a 34-page almanac, and learn about them from the "Beer Dudes" through monthly classes). Soak up the alcohol with some of Sheffield's tasty barbecue.
Good for groups
Dead men tell no lies, and neither, it seems, do giant neon signs. "The Killer Margaritas" blazes above Cesar's door, an assertion backed by eight fruity choices (available large, jumbo and mega) and 18 tequilas. Sip it on the rocks or frozen, tableside or at one of three bars at this moderately-priced Mexican hot spot. Add on equally indulgent meals like the tortipizza and you're in business. Got nine friends who love margaritas? Cesar's will gladly take your reservation.
Move over, deep dish, there's a new pizza in town. With varieties like Philly cheese steak, chicken penne alfredo and the crowd-pleasing mac 'n cheese, you may wonder what Ian was on when he thought up these recipes. But fear not; these popular foods taste just as good, if not better, on a pizza. With up to 30 creative offerings to choose from, it would be a crime to order boring old cheese or pepperoni. Instead, grab a slice of spinach feta pesto, lasagna marinara or BBQ steak and fries ($3.75 per slice) from the counter, where the artfully designed pies are displayed for your choosing.
Where to chill
Pick Me Up Cafe
Pick Me Up serves a mean cup of organic Joe waaay into the wee hours. Unlike at many of Chicago's trendy cafes, the servers at Pick Me Up Cafe are total pros. They'll gladly grant as many refills as you like, and will even honestly recommend a quality snack if you ask them to. By no means is this fine dining, but at 2 a.m. it tastes pretty damned fine to most. Quality meets its match in quantity: Pick Me Up doesn't skimp on the serving size. The very veggie-friendly spot also dishes vegan treats like vegan French toast. If all that isn't enough, it's got one of the best mochas in the city.
Unlike many of the college-friendly bars in this area, Matilda posts a sign out front that says you have to be over 23 to get in the bar. Even though the rule isn't always enforced, it's nice to think that there could be an oasis for those who've seen at least a couple of years go by since their last beer bong. The two-room bar maintains an arty feel, featuring dark walls contrasted by chrome accents, colorful artwork and dim light glowing from candles on the tables. The back room has two pool tables plus several larger booths and tables where you can dine on one of Matilda's notable appetizer options like bruschetta, goat-cheese crostini and hummus, or entrees like shrimp diablo and the stuffed and stacked filet. On most nights the back room is less crowded, though Saturday's 3 a.m. closing time contributes to a tighter space. Any frustration will quickly be calmed by the indie-rock-friendly juke box and the drinks, especially the Happy martini, a standout concoction of Malibu rum, Frangelico liqueur and cream.
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