There are two options when you enter John and Karen Urie Shields’ Smyth + The Loyalist. You can head upstairs to Smyth for a modern fine dining experience, complete with a prix fixe menu, or you can walk downstairs to the Loyalist, a sultry bar with upscale bites (including an amazing cheeseburger) and killer cocktails. Positioned in the West Loop, the spot is perfect for a before- or after-dinner drink, but you could also spend a whole night there.
The Loyalist’s cocktail menu is the centerpiece, springing from the mind of former MFK bartender Roger Landes. The menu is well rounded, with a mix of light and spirit-forward drinks, including twists on classics and more original ideas. All the cocktails have at least one special component, such as the use of Chinato in place of Campari in the Innocents Abroad with Gentiane, creating a citrusy and bitter negroni. Likewise, the Nothing Noble combines bourbon with demerara sugar, a bit of Amargo Valet and mint for an herbal twist on a classic old-fashioned. It isn’t just the variations and balance that makes these cocktails interesting—there’s also something to be said for the presentation. Drinks come in beautiful etched glass goblets and fancy thin-walled lowballs that exude quality and attention to detail.
The food works well for the space too, with primarily small plates made for sharing—a sharp contrast to the fine dining dishes served upstairs. The most notable thing on the menu is the cheeseburger, served on a sesame seed bun with house-made American cheese, pickled cucumbers and onions and is finished off with a glob of mayonnaise. The burger itself is juicy and rich, made with a mix of short rib, bacon and chuck that results in a satisfying fattiness. The menu also includes trendier options, like biscuits with n’duja butter that packs a hint of spice. Most dishes that aren’t quite big enough constitute a dinner, but there are just enough entrée-sized portions and small plates to cobble together a meal. The prettily-plated salads and entrées approach the level of detail that you’ll find upstairs at Smyth (but, thankfully, they’re a lot cheaper).
The same calculated approach taken with presentation extends to the Loyalist’s subterranean space—it may be in a basement, but the team has done everything in its power to make it feel upscale. A polished wooden bar paired with black leather booths lends a luxe but approachable atmosphere, where tourists in jeans and couples dressed to the nines are equally common and acceptable.
In a neighborhood like West Loop, where upscale restaurants run rampant, it’s still hard to beat the digs at the Loyalist. If you’ve been dining out along Randolph Street for a while, it’s always nice to see a new player that does exactly what it sets out to do. The Loyalist goes beyond that, providing expertly crafted drinks and an ever-changing menu that makes it a place deserving of both reservations and regular drop-ins.
Atmosphere: Cool and hip, but not overly so. The dress code is “come as you are,” so your business casual outfit or T-shirt and jeans will fit right in.
What to eat: We can’t stop talking about the cheeseburger, which features a juicy patty, pickles and house-made American cheese. Biscuits and salads are also always excellent choices.
What to drink: The Nothing Noble has been on the menu since the Loyalist opened, and for good reason—it’s quite delicious. We’re also fans of the gin drink of the season and the Innocents Abroad, but the menu changes frequently.
Where to sit: We’ve hung out at booths and high tops for the most part, but per our normal bar preferences, we’d kill to sit at the bar. It’s gorgeous and offers a great view of drinks being made.