Tree-lined sidewalks, spacious parks, prairie wildflowers, fountains, spas, restaurant patios, and craft beer – the southward walk from Congress to Roosevelt on Michigan Ave is quickly becoming one of my favorites.
Intertwined within the landscape are historical monuments displayed like sculptures in an Italian villa. Meanwhile, towering skyscrapers and new lofts sit aside historical buildings; the fading advertisements etched into its bricks remind one of Chicago’s past.
Scott Van Pelt of ESPN often refers to Chicago as the “best summer city in America.” The day I ventured into the South Loop personified that idea. The gentle kiss of Lake Michigan’s natural air conditioning provided respite from the booming July sun, which resulted in a gorgeous 78-degree day – enough to make one forget about the “other” six to eight months of the year. Chicago’s famous city planner, Daniel Burnham, would have enjoyed the walk, I think.
Nothing enhances a great summer day like a burger and a beer, though.
The Burger Bar (1150 S. Michigan) exudes craft culture, including their support of local, Midwestern farms. As it says on their website, “We believe that big flavor on your plate starts with produce raised in Midwestern soil…Check out our chalk board to see all of our favorite farms listed.” Couple that with more than 100 available craft beers, and it is hard to avoid drooling the minute you walk in the door.
The unique beer of the day involved a special brew made just for Burger Bar by Chicago’s Ale Syndicate Brewing. The special 1837 brew – named for Chicago’s birth – is a twist on the classic red ale. It has a sweet and spicy nature with coriander and other spices that I “think” are anise and colve…maybe cumin. I admit it, I’m not sure. What matters is the balance – sweet, spicy, and a little bitter hops to round out the flavor profile. It’s like a Christmas Ale (in July), but not as heavy.
I also tasted a light German maibock lager from Chicago’s Atlas Brewing. Sometimes Maibocks can be a little sweet, but this honey-touched malt pilsner with a little hops serves as the perfect contrast to red meat or hearty pasta. Better yet, enjoy it on a sailboat on Lake Michigan, if possible (If you have a sailboat, please contact me. I’ll bring this beer. Just saying..)
I finished with a Brooklyn Brewery Summer Ale, which proved disappointing. I love Brooklyn Brewing, but this one didn’t rise to the level of their usual excellence. It tasted far more like a pilsner/lager than an ale, and it was quite bland, at that. It felt like it had an identity crisis. It’s ok, even Michael Jordan missed a few shots in his day.
Meanwhile, while enjoying the beers, I consumed a messy, sloppy, tasty one-half pound lamb meatball, tomato sauce, soppressata, provolone, giardinera, and parmesan crisp burger with homemade potato chips. I enjoyed that burger watching the Cubs-Reds, some soccer, and a muted Skip Bayless – the only way to watch him, in my humble opinion.
With the large front doors open, the summer breeze rounded out the experience perfectly.
The Burger Bar has two locations. The original is on Clybourn near North Ave. They offer great burgers and beer. They also offer spirts, unique cocktails…and milkshakes. Both locations are near train stops or are close enough to parking – it’s downtown, so don’t expect to park at the front door, obviously.
On the way back, I strolled to the Hilton’s Kitty O’ Sheas Irish-Style pub. Along with the standard beers one might expect, they offered Half-Acre, Revolution, and New Belgium, to name a few – a pleasant surprise. Mostly, I just wanted to kick back on their patio and enjoy a “brew with a view.”
It’s always good to enjoy summer in Chicago and the South Loop is a great place to experience it.
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