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New & notable winter 2019

BY ALICE LEVITT

Things move fast in the Windy City. Businesses blow away and open space for better restaurants, bars, museums and hotels. In the past six months, several worthy new challengers and celebrity chefs have opened their doors and are making a splash. From vegan eats and boozy treats to luxury hotels and haunted nightclubs, here are our favorite brand new hotspots.

Althea

Is “celebrity vegan chef” a contradiction in terms? Not if you’re talking about Matthew Kenney, who opened this 64-seat café in Saks Fifth Avenue in November. Ladies who lunch are forgoing their typical chicken Caesars in favor of kelp noodle cacio e pepe, kung pao cauliflower and avocado tikka. Cheese lovers have plenty of dairy-free options: think raclette made from cashews, pizza Margherita topped with faux mozzarella, and even an artisan “cheese” plate accompanied by fennel crackers. Craving dessert? Pumpkin-chocolate and coconut cream pie are so convincing, you’ll never guess no animals were harmed in their creation.

Bar Sótano

Rick Bayless took his daughter, Lanie, to a mezcal distillery in Oaxaca when she was six weeks old. Now that she’s a grown-up bar manager, she and her dear old dad have opened a mezcal-focused speakeasy below his famous Frontera Grill. Singaporean-born chef Rishi Manoj Kumar joins them with a food menu that can stand on its own or pair with the smoky libations. There’s even a section on the drinks list that combines the two. The Tacos al Pastor cocktail is infused with the flavors of homemade chorizo, while the guacamole tipple features mezcal flavored with avocados and tomatillo syrup. 

Bibliophile

What do you need to know about this gastropub/wine bar/bookstore? The bartender has a degree in library science from the University of Chicago. Wines and foods are designed to pair with particular books and cocktails are named for the likes of War and Peace and Great Expectations. Mocktails are dubbed after children’s books. Food is simple, with choices like charcuterie and cheese plates, mushroom toast and short-rib-stuffed cabbage. The menu of boozy desserts gets much of the attention from guests eager for a taste of Merlot-infused chocolate cake, Old Fashioned-flavored cheesecake, and rum-packed chocolate mousse. 

Brass Heart

Chef Matt Kerney earned a Michelin star for Longman & Eagle, and now he’s getting yet more rave reviews for his new concept that’s centered on tasting menus. Though Kerney is known for nose-to-tail cookery, Brass Heart offers both omnivorous and vegan options, meaning something impressive for everyone. Meals are structured as either nine- or 15-course prix-fixes, either using animal products or not. Unsurprisingly, the wine list focuses on biodynamic and organic producers, a taste of responsibility that pairs perfectly with animal-free eats. But don’t think the menu is without indulgences — a recent non-vegan 15-course roster included Osetra caviar, lobster and A-5 wagyu.

Chicago Architecture Center

Finding a home has a unique weight when you’re the Chicago Architecture Foundation. Not just any impressive building will do. That’s why the new 20,000-square-foot destination opened on August 31 at Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s modernist landmark, One Illinois Center. Architecture centers in London, Paris and Copenhagen served as inspiration for the exhibits, all devoted to educating visitors about Chicago’s acclaimed architectural assets. Displays, including a model of the Chicago skyline featuring more than 4,000 miniature buildings, change regularly. Chicago itself plays museum with tours, among them river cruises of the city’s structures.

Hotel Julian and About Last Knife 

This chic new home away from home describes itself as “an original remix” of a modern hotel experience. The onetime Atlantic Bank building is close to Millennium Park, home of Anish Kapoor’s Instagram-beloved “Cloud Gate” sculpture. But guests don’t have to leave the property for a great time, especially with the debut of Chef Dan Weiland’s unconventional steakhouse, About Last Knife. Diners can start the day at any hour with steak and eggs, then in the evening, feast on beef Wellington by the slice. Fortunately, there are Peloton bikes in the fitness center, ready to help guests work off the extravagance.

TAO Chicago  

It’s rumored that the former Chicago Historical Society is haunted, but that won’t keep crowds away from the latest link in the international Asian-inspired nightclub and restaurant chain. Exposed brick reveals the remains of the storied building, but the multi-level design by the Rockwell Group is resolutely modern. The buzzy club scene means special events aplenty, but anyone can take in the view of the beautiful people by booking a table in the restaurant. Small plates, dim sum and sushi form the backbone of the menu that will keep guests fueled for a turn on the dance floor. 

The Wheelhouse Hotel  

Wrigleyville’s name tells you much of what you need to know about the neighborhood. The home of Wrigley Field is known for sports and a boisterous night life. No surprise, then, that it took until now for a luxury boutique hotel to come to the area. But there’s plenty to keep you entertained here before and after the game. Bodega is the place to satisfy your sweet tooth with old-fashioned candy. Tinkers to Evers bar provides an upscale alternative to the neighborhood’s dives, while Detroit-style pizza is on the menu at Union Full Board.