When restaurateur Danny Meyer and the team behind New York’s Dead Rabbit Grocery & Grog announced they were opening a Chicago location, it was instantly a Big Deal. They confirmed that by signing on Julia Momose (the Aviary/Office) as head bartender and Aaron Lirette (Celeste) as executive chef, two people whose work I’ve admired for awhile—Momose for her use of unexpected ingredients and innovative flavor combinations, and Lirette for his refined takes on classic dishes (I still recall his jidori chicken and octopus dishes from Celeste fondly). With their talent, GreenRiver is one of Chicago’s best bars—with a gorgeous view to boot.
GreenRiver has a Chicago history/Irish theme, but it’s subtle, aside from the drink names, which nod to Chicago historical figures. There’s a primer on each on the cocktail list, which is divided by key ingredients, such as corn, agave and grape and apple. To do justice to this menu, you need time to read through it—do it with a drink in hand by ordering a highball from a separate list. The eight highballs are the sleeper hits of the menu, like housemade Japanese plum vinegar soda spiked with Carpano Bianco vermouth, a bright concoction with a vegetal edge, and cassis liqueur with housemade oolong tea soda, which is lightly sweet with herbal notes.
The cocktails have a lot going on, and GreenRiver’s food menu is a nice counterpoint—the dishes are familiar with gentle twists. For starters, fried chicken oysters with pickled pepper sauce are a play on chicken nuggets, and entrees include the oceanic saffron spaghetti, tossed with an uni sauce, clams and bursting tomatoes, and a crisp-skinned chicken with grits and a salty sherry jus. While the charred bread overpowered the gentle steak tartare and the mille-feuille dessert needed more flavor, food on the whole is excellent.
And so is the view—it’s hard to find a rooftop spot where the food and drink match the ambience, but GreenRiver nails it.
Atmosphere: To get to GreenRiver, you need to go through a Northwestern Memorial Hospital building, and the way isn’t entirely well-marked, so just head to the elevators on the left, go up to the 18th floor and you’ll emerge at a host stand. Once inside, it feels nothing like a hospital building, thankfully. There’s a spacious outdoor patio with lounge furniture and beautiful views, while inside there’s an open kitchen, a sleek bar and a few tables.
What to eat: For starters, the octopus is perfectly tender and served with romesco sauce, crispy chickpeas and orange, an almost-identical preparation to the version Lirette served at Celeste, but my favorite dish is the foie gras, a melting slab atop bread pudding with tartness from cranberries and salty cashews. End with the carrot cake, served with smoked carrot ice cream and with a crunchy layer that keeps the dish light.
What to drink: Excluding the highballs, the cocktail list has 32 offerings, so there’s a lot to try, and I feel like I’ll need more than two visits to fully grasp the menu. Momose uses lots of surprising ingredients, including garam masala, mirin, Old Bay and dandelion, but each drink I tried came together perfectly. For whiskey fans, the Lincoln Park is a lightly smoky Scotch pina colada, while the Gray Wolf is a beautiful blend of Yamazaki 12-year and Benedictine rounded out with demerara and plum vinegar. On the rum side, the Fighting Mary is lush with rich fruits, including pomegranate and mango, and the Governor of Illinois is a funky Jamaican rum cocktail mixed with Irish whiskey, port, raspberry and lime, served over crushed ice and topped with berries. I also liked the Diamond Jim, a sparkling pink cocktail that tastes nothing like you’d expect—mezcal brings some smoke, while Old Bay tincture adds celery notes.
Where to sit: Cocktail nerds should park themselves at the bar to watch the super friendly bartenders make drinks. If you’re eating—and you should—move to a table to give yourself some room. And when it’s nice out, the patio is a great option.