CHICAGO It's that time again—time for the company holiday party. Here are new restaurants, bars, and other event spaces that can accommodate corporate holiday events, employee gatherings, and other end-of-year festivities.
1. The Phoenix Lounge at the Wit Hotel opened on the downtown property's mezzanine in June. Available for buyout, the semiprivate space seats 45. Mediterranean-inspired small plates include tuna tartare and artichoke bruschetta. Staffers can arrange for live entertainment on the so-called “perch,” a landing on the glass staircase that joins the lobby to the Phoenix Lounge. The hotel's roster of performers includes up-and-coming jazz vocalists and instrumentalists.
2. Benchmark opened in Old Town in August. The sports bar has two levels and 8,000 square feet of space. Available for buyout, the venue can host receptions for 400. Referred to as the convertible beer garden, the upstairs space has a retractable roof and can hold 175 for cocktails. Scattered semiprivate areas can host receptions or dinners for 20 to 100. The menu offers steak tacos, meatball pomodoro pizzas, and pulled-pork sliders.
3. The Riverwalk at Kendall College opened at the hospitality school in September. The 1,890-square-foot raw space—which, true to its name, offers river views—can hold 100 inside. Weather permitting, an outdoor space can hold an additional 100.The college's in-house events department handles functions held within the space, letting students set up, work, and cook for events.
4. The Exchange opened in Wicker Park in late January. With banquette seating, patterned wallpaper, and floating light fixtures, the cozy lounge is available for buyout and can host receptions for 99. Craft cocktails incorporate ingredients such as orange bitters, grapefruit juice, and agave nectar. Punch options such as “Swimming In It"—a blend of gin, chamomile tea, honey syrup, sparkling wine, and lemon and tangerine juices—come in a vintage bowl and serve four to six guests.
5. West Loop restaurant Market converted its beer garden to an all-weather ping-pong patio, called Let Lounge, in October. With four 46-inch plasma TVs, rattan lounge furniture and—of course—table tennis, the 2,500-square-foot space can hold 150. Owners can arrange to bring in referees for private ping-pong tournaments. The seasonal menu offers snacks such as curried crab cakes, Waygu beef sliders, and braised short rib pot roast.
6. Sable Kitchen & Bar opened in March. According to owners, the venue houses the city's largest collection of brown liquors, and lead mixologist Jacques Bezuidenhout can lead private groups in whiskey tastings and cocktail-making classes. Inspired by 1940s Hollywood, the decor includes golden columns, tufted-leather chaise lounges, and a blown-glass chandelier. With a 34-seat lounge, a 48-seat main dining room, and a 24-seat private dining room, the venue is available for full or partial buyout.
7. Mastro's Steakhouse—a chain with locations in California, Arizona, and Las Vegas—opened its first Chicago outpost in October. In River North, the venue houses four private rooms. On the second floor, three rooms can each host seated dinners for 32. The rooms can also be combined to hold dinners for 96. Dubbed “Mastro Four,” the largest private room can accommodate receptions for 100.
8. Red Bar Comedy Club opened in May. The River North venue has four scheduled performances that take place on Fridays and Saturdays, and the public shows can accommodate groups of 60. Discounts are available for group ticket sales, and guests get champagne at their tables. On any other night of the week, the space can host private events for groups of 50 or more, and owners can book comedians.
9. Vietnamese eatery Sawtooth came to the West Loop in August. Available for buyout, the upscale restaurant holds 300. On the second floor, a semiprivate dining room holds 12, and the whole floor seats 82. The third floor houses a private dining room that can host dinners for 70. For presentations, hosts can make use of an in-house projection screen.
10. Originally built in 1949, the Alley completed a major renovation in January. The Highwood venue offers bowling, darts, and billiards, as well as a dance floor and a wall of video screens that can project content from laptops or DVD players. For private events, staffers can arrange for catering from area restaurants or Catering by Michael's, and the Alley's own kitchen churns out pizzas, sandwiches, and appetizers. On the lower level, a new party room can hold 50. The entire space can host events for 350.