The loop is the business hub of Chicago. Its name comes from the el (our subway) that circles (or loops) around the neighborhood! Oh wait – another definition. Our subways are called the “el” or “L” because they are ELevated (unlike New York City and other major cities whose subways are underground!) We do have two underground lines though, the red line, and parts of the blue line. You can see the inside of a brown line car train in the header photo above. (The brown line is one of the elevated lines which runs from the loop to Old Town, Lincoln Park and Lakeview.)
Anyways, the loop is bustling Monday – Friday until 6 or 7pm. However, the majority of the loop is actually completely empty on the weekends! While some Chicagoans live there, it’s not common. The east part of the loop remains crowded all week long, but on the weekend it’s mostly tourists taking selfies in the bean, waiting in line for a rooftop drink at Cindy’s, and maybe enjoying an event like Lollapalooza, Jazz Fest, or Taste of Chicago in Grant Park.
For those reasons, if you’re visiting Chicago for vacation, I wouldn’t recommend basing yourself in the loop. Instead, stop by for a weekday meal or drink, especially if you want to get a taste of everyday big city life. Take a look at my recommendations below, followed by all of the spots in the loop I’ve ever posted on Instagram! Let me know what your favorite workday spots are in the comments below.
Old School: The Berghoff
Undoubtably one of the most historic eateries in Chicago, The Berghoff has been serving up German food in the heart of the loop since 1898. A century later, the restaurant is still family owned and operated out of the same location. The Berghoff didn't let prohibition ruin their success, and were rule followers: they survived on selling "near beer" and root beer for over a decade, and when prohibition was lifted, they were the first to be granted a Chicago liquor license! You can see it hanging in their beautiful antique bar. There are three ways to enjoy the Berghoff: stop by the bar for a pint (first come, first served, option for small bites) have a more formal meal in the dining room, or head to the cafe during the lunch rush: only open 11-2, M-F. My favorite time to stop by is during Oktoberfest when the place is decorated from head to toe, and there are various events and live music!
Rooftop Happy Hour: Cerise
Ok, we all know about Cindy's, and yes it's beautiful, but for something a little more off the beaten path I'd recommend Cerise Rooftop in the Virgin Hotel. The Virgin is a new hotel (2015) inside an old space (Old Dearborn Bank Building, 1928.) The hotel is incredibly modern, and very involved with the Chicago music scene, often hosting small concerts in their event space upstairs, festival afterparties, DJs, and other events. Cerise is a fun happy hour spot with outdoor seating during the day, and a hip bar at night, with an incredible view of the loop's towering skyline.
Hidden: Heaven on Seven
When a place is completely hidden from the street, yet consistently busy for 9 meals a week, it's a good sign. Heaven on Seven is a cajun style New Orleans restaurant located on the 7th floor of a mundane office building downtown. Once you step through those doors, you're transported from the florescent linoleum elevator lobby straight to Louisiana. Chef Jimmy Bannos first opened the venue as a coffee shop in 1980, and five years later, transformed it into the southern haven it is today. With amazing decor all year round (even better during Mardi Gras) a wall full of hot sauce bottles, and a partially open kitchen, the ambiance can't be beat. You have to taste the Gumbo, and document your "Po Bo Face" while stuffing one of the delicious oversized sandwiches into your mouth. Bonus points if you do both while sipping an ice cold Abita.
Fast Casual: Aloha Poke
Most loop frequenters are there 5 days a week for work, so there are countless fast casual restaurants in the neighborhood. There are lots of solo spots, and four food halls: French Market, Revival Food Hall, Latinicity, and the newest, Wells Street Market. I work closest to the French Market, and my favorite spot is inside: Aloha Poke! A medium bowl will run you $11.12 with tax - so the price of one cheap sushi roll, but so much more filling. It is made-to-order, and can have a long line at noon, but otherwise is extremely quick, and totally customizable. If you are a sushi lover, check it out!