As much as you love your coworkers, there’s just something deeply unsatisfying about Zoom Happy Hours. Maybe it’s because you still have other windows running in the background full of unfinished projects and deadline reminders. Or maybe, just maybe - after a year of ceaseless meetings, family events, and celebrations on the almighty video calling app, you’re just exhausted from all the time spent on Zoom. We know we are.
We’ve gathered these Chicago restaurants and bars that will make meeting up with coworkers easy. You’ll want someplace where it’s reasonably easy to get a table (or at least possible), and a space that’s unstuffy and not too romantic. That includes bars in Logan Square with great food, late-night dim sum spots in Chinatown, and rooftops where you can let all of your 9-5 worries fade faster than your memories of that viral lawyer cat video back in March.
All restaurants featured on The Infatuation are selected by our editorial team. Where To Meet Up With Coworkers That Isn’t A Zoom Call is presented by Justworks, the ultimate HR platform for small and growing businesses. Justworks makes it easier to start, run, and grow a business with simple software and expert support for benefits, payroll, HR, and compliance. For more on the partnership and a chance to win $2000 for a team meal click here.*
It’s 5pm and you just need a glass of wine, some food, and a safe space to complain about work that isn’t Slack. Head to Joe’s, an easy-to-get-into wine bar in the West Loop with tasty small plates.Order dishes like ricotta with honey, meatballs, or the pasta of the day. This place has both a dimly lit interior that will soothe your burned-out screen eyes, and a sidewalk patio that rarely feels crowded.
This Italian restaurant in Logan Square opened late last summer, and if you don’t know about it - well, you should. The dining room is little and cute (but not cramped) and there’s a courtyard and large side patio. The menu is short - some hot and cold small plates, two Roman-style pizzas, a few entrees, and pastas like cacio e pepe and mezze maniche. The food here is great, the space is lovely, and it’s perfect for a low-key dinner to catch up with some of your favorite coworkers.
Do you want to have a last-minute get-together after a bunch of sh*t went down during the all hands? Chikatana is a good option. For one, it’s still new enough that you can actually reserve a table before 11pm. The big space also has large tables perfect for groups, the bar area is ideal for grabbing cocktails (the Paloma is excellent), and this Mexican restaurant makes shareable dishes like cochinita pibil, tlayudas, tuétano, and pato en mole, along with wonderfully chewy tortillas. All of which are perfect when you’re trying to Perry Mason that NDA you all had to sign.
This bar in Logan Square is from the team behind Little Bad Wolf in Andersonville, which you might know because of its incredible burger. And Gretel has become one of our favorite spots for a casual post-work get together. For one thing, the food is great. They also have a fantastic burger, along with shareable things like charcuterie, hummus with laffa, and pork belly nachos. But it’s also just a nice place to hang out for a few hours. It’s cozy and dark (seriously - the walls are painted black) and will immediately soothe your Zoom-fatigued eyes. Plus, it has a long drink menu and a wall of liquor bottles that necessitate the bartender using a rolling ladder like Belle in the Library from Beauty And The Beast.
Jade Court Chinese Cuisine
The original Jade Court closed in 2019, but this Chinese restaurant has reopened in a new location in Hyde Park. It’s off the main stretch of 53rd (so it isn’t quite as busy as some of the other restaurants in the area) and is built for groups. There are a few lazy susan tables, and large format dishes on the menu, like Peking Duck. The long menu has a variety of dishes like orange chicken, salt and pepper shrimp, dry chicken chili, and Szechuan beef, and a lot of cocktails too. Including a shockingly good Hurricane, which you might want to have handy if your boss is joining.
Avec River North
Do you love Avec in the West Loop but feel that the cramped, communal seating situation is an HR nightmare waiting to happen? Check out Avec’s River North location. It’s about 56 times larger than the original Avec, isn’t shaped like a shoebox, and everyone gets their very own seat. Plus, it has a longer menu full of Avec classics (like the chorizo-stuffed bacon-wrapped dates and taleggio flatbread), along with a lot more small and large plates, pastas, and pizza.
Anytime you need a place for a group, Min Hing will probably work. And it’s a great place to know about - it’s large, has several locations, and is open 365 days a year - which might be how long it’s been since you’ve had a day off from Slack. It also happens to have the most consistently good dim sum in Chicago. And nothing will break the ice easier than sharing a bunch of delicious things like pork buns, shu mai, and sesame balls.
Avli River North
There are three other Avlis, but the River North location is our favorite for a team dinner. The large two-level space is perfect for groups, while also being quiet enough to easily hear everyone’s complaints about your boss. Plus, it has a slightly different menu than the others, with dishes like astakomakaronada (a lobster pasta in a great ouzo-tomato sauce) and chicken souvlaki - tender chicken breast skewers on top of a bed of fries topped with feta and yogurt sauce.
Instead of meeting at some downtown chain for lunch, head to QXY in Chinatown instead. It’s nice and casual, and specializes in delicious broth-filled dumplings you can get steamed, boiled, or fried. You’ll see the kitchen making everything to order, which is way more entertaining than the two-hour-long all hands (with cameras on) you all just had to endure. And the best thing about coming here with a group is that you can order as many dumpling combinations as possible.
You might already be familiar with S.K.Y in Pilsen, a fantastic restaurant that feels like a sexy basement. But Apolonia, a mostly Mediterranean restaurant in the South Loop, is from the same team. Unlike S.K.Y., Apolonia is bright and airy, with tall windows and high ceilings. But similar to its sibling, the menu is wide-ranging with a bunch of influences. There are dishes like fantastic mussels on toast, a buttery truffle puff bread, and fiorentini topped with a rich pork sugo. This place is definitely more “fun dinner with your responsible coworkers” than “getting messy with friends.” But no matter who you’re here with, dinner will be delicious.
This upscale Southern spot is one of our favorite restaurants in Hyde Park. Not only is the food great, but we like sitting in the open dining room that’s always packed, but somehow never feels claustrophobic. Come here to share things like fantastic biscuits with honey butter, buttery shrimp and grits, and baked mac and cheese we’d run through a wall for, then head to their large bar section and commiserate over drinks. Or, just start the night out with cocktails, and order food at the bar.
The Duplex in Logan Square serves food from different restaurants every six months, and right now they’re serving Mexican food from Lime and Radish (the birria taco is great) and excellent fried chicken sandwiches from The Kluckerz. This place feels more like hanging out at a bar with great food than a restaurant. That’s partially because of the long cocktail list, and literal bar which takes up half the (pretty large) restaurant. But also because of how you order the food: you order everything from a QR code at the table and just close out your tab whenever you’re done eating (and drinking). It’s a good idea if the decision to get together is impromptu, because there is a very good chance you will be able to just show up and get a table, and that also goes for their sidewalk patio.
*NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Open to legal residents of the 50 US/DC, 18+ who are authorized representatives of an eligible business. Ends at 11:59:00 pm ET on 9/29/21. Prize: $2,000 gift card awarded to the winning business to bond with your team over a delicious meal at an Infatuation-approved restaurant. SUBJECT TO RULES. See rules for business eligibility and odds. Void where prohibited. Sponsor: The Infatuation Inc., 424 Broadway, 5th Fl, New York, NY 10013.