10 Chicago Venues for Company Picnics and Summer Entertaining

By Jenny Berg May 17, 2011, 10:00 AM EDT

Rendering: Frederick Christiano

The warm weather is finally here, which means its time to start entertaining interns and summer associates, clients, and corporate groups. Check out Chicago's new bars, clubs, restaurants, and outdoor and fresh-air-friendly venues for corporate picnics, company gatherings, and other types of summer entertaining.

1. Davanti Enoteca, a new Italian restaurant in Little Italy, will unveil a second-level patio later this month. Strung up with hanging lights and adorned with fig and lemon trees, the space will have 40 seats and reception space for 50 to 60 guests. The menu focuses on small plates, and items include mason jars filled with ricotta cheese and honeycomb served with Tuscan bread; roasted beets with walnut butter; and pizzas topped with fresh mozzarella, basil, and tomato.

2. After a major renovation, Bice, formerly known as Bice Bistro, will reopen in the Gold Coast in June. The new venue has expanded to include a piazza that will host private dinners for 120. The interior, available for buyout, seats an additional 100. On the menu, modern Italian fare includes foie gras ravioli and veal chops.

3. Mad Mark's Pizza and Sports opened in Schaumburg in June. Serving picnic-ready fare such as burgers, panini, and salads, the venue has a bar-equipped patio that seats 350 and can host private events. Beside the patio, an outdoor entertainment complex offers courts for sand volleyball, bags, and basketball.

4. South Branch Tavern and Grille opened in March. The entire space can seat 250, and a patio provides seating for an additional 175. The menu offers casual, summery fare such as patty melt burgers, Baja fish tacos, and baked cookie dough with vanilla ice cream.

5. Wood Dale's TopGolf, which offers a live-ball driving range with computerized scoring, got a rooftop beer garden in August. Equipped with a fire pit, a live-performance area, and 26 hitting bays, the alfresco space can host events for 150. Menu items for tee-table service include mini steak burgers, guacamole with homemade chips, and spiked Arnold Palmers.

6. Billed as a “gastro-tavern,” Frontier opened in late January. The venue's 2,500-square-foot beer garden, which opened this spring, can host alfresco functions for 100 and has lounge seating and an outdoor fireplace. At the western-saloon-inspired spot, groups can sample spit-roasted whole animals including goat, pig, lamb, and boar; sides include sweet potato puree, campfire marshmallows, and wilted dandelion greens.

7. Benchmark opened in Old Town in August. From the owners of neighborhood spots like WestEnd and Schoolyard, 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. The menu offers hearty bar fare: steak tacos, meatball pomodoro pizzas, and pulled-pork sliders.

8. 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. 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. In the future, the owners plan to work with a small list of preferred vendors.

9. Le Bar at the Sofitel Chicago Water Tower introduced an outdoor dining area, La Terasse, last summer. With 25 seats and standing space for 30, the patio is spruced up with flowers and offers a menu of French-inspired specialties. Items include salmon rilette with toasted baguettes, mini burgers with boursin aioli and crispy onions, and ginger macaroons with chocolate-lime ice cream.

10. The Terrace at Trump, a 16th-floor patio at Trump International Hotel and Tower Chicago, originally opened in 2008. This year, the outdoor spot has a new “Polynesian chic” theme. Spruced up with torches, woven bamboo fixtures, and lush foliage, the eatery now serves items such as tuna-sesame-and-jalapeño sushi, and mango-glazed pork belly sliders. The new cocktail list focuses on shareable punch bowls. Also new this year, a semiprivate eight-sided table called the Octagon can host groups of 10. Available for buyout, the entire space can hold 225.

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