Winter in Chicago feels like it lasts about 17 months. What makes it seem even longer is Fake Spring, the one warm day in March that creates a false sense of hope it might all actually be over. Don’t be fooled - it’s not. You have at least another month of snow, ice, and below-zero windchill to go.
Still, when Fake Spring comes, it’s important to take advantage of the brief window of time before you’re plunged back into the grey abyss. Here are 14 great places to help you make the most of it while you can. They’re all spots where you can either actually sit outside, or otherwise preserve the fantasy that you’ve put your giant puffy coat away for the last time.
Seasonal spots are a great way to keep track of when summer (unofficially) begins and ends. The Original Rainbow Cone, a seasonal ice cream shop in Beverly that’s been around since 1926, is a good example. Just like us, this place can’t wait for winter to be over, which is why it opens for spring and summer ahead of schedule, in the middle of February. The namesake ice cream cone here is made with layers of chocolate, strawberry, Palmer house (vanilla with walnuts and cherries), and pistachio ice creams, plus orange sherbet, and it’s the perfect treat for keeping up the illusion that the good weather is permanent.
We keep hearing rumors that California is healthier than us, and has better weather. And the California-inspired food at Left Coast Food & Juice helps us feel like we’re getting ready for an ambitious outdoor activity like biking along Lake Shore, or going more than 20 feet without calling an Uber. This casual counter-service spots serves things like grain bowls, pressed juices, and avocado toast topped with orange slices and sunflower seeds. So when you hear those sounds coming from winged creatures in the sky (they might… be birds… it’s been so long), get on your bike and come here.
Eating and drinking on the huge outdoor patio at Big Star is a classic summer-in-Chicago experience. And while the actual patio might not be available to you during Fake Spring, this place still has a huge glassed-in front area that will sort of make you feel like you’re outside. Get a margarita and some tacos, and find a spot as close to the window as possible.
Thanks to all the heat we pump into our apartments, offices, cars, and $20,000 Limited Edition Canada Goose Coats, by March we all have dry skin. So on a mysteriously 60-degree day, don’t hesitate - get in the car, roll down the windows, and head to Superdawg in Norwood Park. It’s an old-fashioned drive-in that’s been around since 1948. You can order your hot dogs, cheeseburgers, and milkshakes from a speaker, and a carhop will bring them out to you. They’ll even hook a tray to your window so you can eat while you rehydrate like a foam-capsule dinosaur in water.
1948 must have been a popular year for eating in the car, because that’s also when Calumet Fisheries, a little seafood smokehouse on the 95th Street Bridge, opened. This place has no indoor seating, so plan on sitting in your car unless it’s warm enough to hang around outside (if it’s the kind of day where you can justify getting away with just a sweatshirt, grab one of the outdoor tables instead). Get some smoked salmon and fried shrimp - then the sturgeon, trout, whitefish, and herring for good measure.
One unsettling characteristic of Fake Spring is that while it’s warm, Chicago trees are still very much leafless and look a little like illustrations from Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark. But the top floor of Celeste, a bar in River North, is full of plants, including ivy. In fact, it looks an awful lot like the kind of English garden you’d play hide and seek in with your housekeeper who died before you were born. It’s a great spot to have some cocktails and eat things like a caramelized onion fondue, or steak frites, before going out for the night in the neighborhood.
There’s nothing attractive about the ground during Fake Spring, since it’s spent months waterlogged under all the melty snow and ice. And the Indiana-style smashed burgers at The Region in Roscoe Village aren’t the prettiest things either. But they’re delicious, and the caramelized edges they get from being pressed flat on the grill make them worth any and all aesthetic compromises. Plus, this counter-service spot feels like the kind of place you’d stop in during the summer after a day at the pool.
We’re fans of the huge outdoor patio at The Moonlighter, and we like the bar food (like nachos and double-pattied burgers), too. But Fake Spring only lasts about 24 hours, and that’s not enough time for this place to set up their entire patio. Luckily, The Moonlighter keeps some picnic tables outside year-round, by the two outdoor fireplaces. So for the brief period of time when it makes sense to use them, do so. And when the temperature drops 23 degrees in the first two hours you’re here, just head inside and grab a seat by the indoor fireplace.
The atmosphere at Lonesome Rose can be problematic depending on how you feel about winter. On one hand, it’s light and bright, which makes our vitamin D-deficient bodies feel better. On the other, it’s filled with healthy plants that make us feel bad for the ones currently dying in our dark apartments. Either way, the Tex-Mex food (like very good queso, and crispy fish tacos) goes nicely with at least the idea of sunshine and warmth. So on a randomly warm day, we can come here and not be as resentful about living like the crew from 30 Days Of Night.
Irazu is a BYOB Costa Rican spot that used to be a tiny restaurant with a large outdoor patio. But then they enclosed it, which was a good thing since it doubled the restaurant’s size. It’s still open and airy, and when it’s warm out they’ll crack the windows and you can get a nice breeze. The Costa Rican dishes, like gallo pinto (eggs, sweet plantains, black beans, and rice) and casado (your choice of meat or fish with cabbage, black beans, rice, and plantains) are all things that make us feel closer to the equator. By a lot.
Baseball season is in actual spring. But during Fake Spring, you can still act like it’s the real thing. Head to Union Full Board, which is right near the stadium in Wrigleyville. This place has fantastic Detroit-style pizza, which is like a rectangular hybrid of Pequod’s and Lou Malnati’s. So it has a caramelized crust, but the sauce is on top, like classic deep dish. After a casual date night here, take a stroll by the stadium and pretend the Cubs are just at an away game.
Lickity Split is a retro sweets and ice cream shop in Edgewater that makes its own frozen custard fresh every day. And although this place is open year-round, it’s common knowledge that ice cream tastes better when you can eat it outside. There’s no danger it will melt during Fake Spring, so when the magical day comes when you hesitate before deciding if you need to put on gloves, head here. Order a sundae or one of the concretes - like the Scarlett’s Last Fall, which has an entire red velvet cupcake mixed in with vanilla custard.
Fat Johnnie’s is an iconic hot dog stand on the Southside. Yes, this little shack looks like it’s going to blow over, but it’s been surviving Chicago winters since 1972, and Fake Spring is a good time to enjoy standing outside while eating a very good red hot or “mother-in-law” (a tamale on a hot dog bun topped with chili).
Tempesta is a counter-service shop with great sandwiches that have about 789 ingredients each. Pick up the Dante (a spicy Italian sandwich with soppressata, mortadella, porchetta, coppa, finocchiona, and ’nduja aioli), and go find a park bench to sit on while you eat. Then be grateful that even though the weather will be terrible tomorrow, at least we don’t have as many pigeons as New York.