A sushi roll from Hot Woks Cool Sushi
Inaccessible to most L stations, the Northwest Side remains one of Chicago's last frontiers. Hipsters haven't stormed it by boat - or rather, L carload – as they have eclectic enclaves Bucktown and Pilsen. As a result, area business owners began introducing pinches of pizzazz to an area exhausted by the all-too-common hotdog stand. Whether you're a resident wishing for hot hair and cool sushi, or an outsider on a mission for scorching untapped nightlife, we've got you covered.
Touch of Euro
Pack your bags and board your flight across the Atlantic for a touch of Europe. Or instead, pile into your car and visit a Touch of Euro. No passport required, just an affinity for techno. Expect a vibrating dance floor intensified with an outstanding sound system and castle-esque features abound, reminiscent of Goro's lair in "Mortal Kombat." However, you won't battle any four-armed hybrids here - just a long line. Blow things up on Fridays with $2 Jager bombs and get seven of your closest in on the best bottle-service offer in town: a $60 bottle of Sobieski on Saturdays, for groups of seven or more. Shifting themes, like beach parties with real sand, keep regulars from getting restless. Whatever the function, attendees reflect those in River North's scene: photogenic and donned in Armani Exchange.
Hops & Barley
When Hops & Barley joined the club of Northwest Side watering holes, it sent a ripple along Milwaukee Avenue with its modern design and veranda dining. Our Wednesday-night barmaid, Jessica, recalled, "This was the first bar in the area that felt like being in Wrigleyville." Shortly after, rivals tossed up exposed brick, updated furniture and replaced boxy televisions with flat screens. But none sport the gold medal quite like Hops & Barley. Instead of being filled with creepy tavern types and Roseanne rejects, this bar with a kitchen introduces Lincoln Park panache to the hashes of Portage, Old Irving and Jefferson Park without precluding any Northwest Side swagger. Come mingle, play bags (on Tuesdays), shoot pool, spit poetry (Sundays are open-mic nights) or host a party (for $100, a downstairs party room is available for three hours). Mondays snap up the largest crowds with $2 domestics and $2 burgers and fries.
Hot Woks Cool Sushi
Leave it up to Woranat "Noom" Wathakeyanon, whose inventive hands helped prosper both Tank and Sushi Wabi, to revamp an old house off the L and bring sushi to Old Irving Park. A pan-Asian menu maintains the traditional balance of classic dishes while merging them with regional flavors. Although Noom's favorite pad Thai dish resides on the Hot Woks portion of the menu, guests swim by mainly for the cool sushi – eating it up like sharks. Gulp down any one of the seven signature rolls: $11.95-$13.95.
Elegance Massage Spa, 4204 W. Irving Park, (773) 736-4247
You'll shed a nostalgic tear stepping inside this Old Irving Park spa just off the Irving Park Blue Line stop. A DIY mirror props against shimmering penny-colored walls of dramatic brushstrokes. Chairs that look to be bought off Craigslist are plunked before a coffee table stacked with wrinkled magazines, evoking the typical setup of a Lakeview shop (Halo for instance), 10 years back. Perhaps this artsy setting, accented with potted plants and a chandelier hanging from a retro ceiling (the kind you'd find in an old Logan Square apartment) works as a relaxing segue into your tingling Swedish massage ($60 per hour). On the go? Gorgeous Latin massage therapists can kick out any kinks on a front-room massage chair for $1 per minute. Before jetting, hit the tanning bed for that summer glow year round.
Get pampered at Gallery of Hair.
Gallery of Hair, 6500 W. Irving Park, (773) 283-0000
What can you expect from a strip-mall hair salon with neighbors like TJ Maxx and Fashion Bug? Frank Jeffery, co-owner of Gallery of Hair, promises "downtown quality without downtown prices." Whatever your personality, you'll be partnered with the perfect stylist. Get with Erin Schneider (yea, she's that girl from "Beauty and the Geek") for an L.A. love look; or link with Lady Laronda and sample her raver-fun feel. If you walk in a wreck, needing extensions and a manicure, esthetician Michelle Pimentel assures "you'll walk out a star, from head to toe." Haircuts range from $10-$30.