"Do you remember when it was 80 degrees in March last year?"
Yup, that might be the most common complaint muttered by coat-clad Chicagoans this spring.
Sure, summer didn't come early this year as it did last, but that hasn't stopped dozens of restaurants and bars from planning stellar new outdoor spaces to debut once Mother Nature decides it really is time for warm weather in Chicago. Here's a teaser of what rooftop bars, backyard patios and sidewalk cafes are ready for business, weather permitting, plus dozens others slated for debuts throughout the summer.
10 STANDOUT SPACES
15 W. Illinois St. 312-239-0995
This Scottsdale, Ariz.-import with an industrial-inspired look opened in March in River North and already has its retractable roof ready for warm weather. When temperatures climb above 50 degrees, the greenhouse-like glass roof opens to let sun into the second-floor space, which has a capacity of 265 people. Framed by dark leather and blue-and-white striped booths as well as table seating, the second floor also features a raised DJ area and 360-degree wraparound bar with TVs.
ETA: Open now, weather permitting
Sweet Baby Ray's Smokehouse Bourbon & Beer
3478 N. Clark St. 773-975-7427
Even if the Cubs game gets rained out, you can still imbibe outside on the fully covered patio next door to this recently opened barbecue bar that's also—if you couldn't tell from the name—plugging its bourbon and beer selection. TVs are due to be added within the next two weeks, but until then, outdoor speakers tuned to sports audio mean you can keep tabs on the big game of the moment.
ETA: Now open, weather permitting
Howells & Hood
435 N. Michigan Ave. 312-262-5310
The glazed white terra cotta facade of the Wrigley Building and the reflective blue glass skin of Trump Tower both stand watch over Howells & Hood's newly opened patio, which is adjacent to Pioneer Court and Tribune Tower (Full disclosure: The RedEye offices are located in the same building). Pry your eyes off the architecture to focus on the 120-tap outdoor bar (with heaters along the canopy's perimeter), the full food menu or four large TVs. There are plenty of seating options for groups and couples, including high-top tables, couches and seats at two 16-foot-long tables illuminated by table-top fireboxes. Four oversized umbrellas equipped with infrared heaters keep outdoor diners toasty after sunset.
ETA: Now open, weather permitting
4539 N. Lincoln Ave. 773-506-9300
The backyard patio at this Lincoln Square restaurant promises a tranquil escape thanks to lush landscaping, stone tabletops and benches along the perimeter. Look up and you'll see a roof protecting your dinner from showers; look to the side to feast your eyes on a mural to be painted by a local artist on the building next door.
ETA: Late April, weather permitting
Little Market Brasserie
20 E. Delaware Place 312-640-8141
The expansive extra-wide sidewalk in front of the Talbott Hotel has seen plenty of al fresco action over the years, from the piazza-style seating of Bice to PT, the late-season pop-up restaurant that held court while the indoor space was under construction. Now, this four-month-old restaurant will make most of the space with a 125-seat sidewalk cafe opening daily at 6:30 a.m. for open-air breakfast, followed by lunch, dinner and dessert before closing at midnight.
ETA: May 1
940 W. Weed St. 312-337-3486
The owners of this Weed Street fixture—known for college sports and country concerts—are throwing their cowboy hats in the rooftop ring with a 3,500-square-foot rooftop bar with views of the downtown skyline. A separate street-level entrance, full food menu, a new cocktail list and potentially acoustic music shows are in the works.
ETA: May 4
51 W. Kinzie St. 312-595-1322
Though recreating the secluded piazzas of Italy in the heart of River North is an impossible task, the owners of Siena Tavern—"Top Chef" fan favorite Fabio Viviani and the owners of Public House down the street—are doing the next best thing with their 100-seat sidewalk cafe. Expect canopy-covered, light-strung lounge seating for groups along Dearborn Street and traditional dining furniture along Kinzie Street.
ETA: Early May
160 E. Pearson St. 312-573-5160
The Ritz-Carlton is getting in on the downtown hotel rooftop scene with this 12th floor bar located outside the hotel's current restaurant, Deca. In addition to seating for 57 and a menu of light snacks and specialty cocktails, the main attraction will be "The Lens," an eye-shaped sculpture constructed of the same material as "Cloud Gate" (aka "The Bean) that will reflect light from a nearby fireplace.