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Fun places for kids with bars for the grownups

How to make those summer outings fun for everyone.
 (Photograph: Lizz Sisson)
Photograph: Lizz Sisson
 (Photograph: Lizz Sisson)
Photograph: Lizz Sisson
By Frank Sennett |

Let’s pour ourselves a highball and discuss one of parenting’s dirty little secrets: Drinking alcohol can make family outings more enjoyable, as long as you do it in moderation and pick your spots wisely.

It’s all about context. Some places are just too kidtastic to make good drinking spots: You should never need a designated driver after a child’s birthday party. Sure, Chuck E. Cheese’s serves beer, but riddle me this, Shakes the Clown: Is that really a walk of shame worth taking at 10am on a Saturday?

Conversely, some perfect drinking spots just aren’t so child-appropriate. Hooters thoughtfully offers a kids’ menu, for instance, but you won’t find a Parent of the Year award nestled in the cleavage of your lovely server, no matter how long you stare. (Trust me on this.)

Thankfully, there’s a lot of booze-friendly middle ground left between those extremes. Chances are you were going to revisit some of these popular hangouts this summer already. And, chances are you weren’t all that fired up about them…until now.

Kids love The beach
YOU’LL LOVE Castaways (1603 N Lake Shore Dr, 773-281-1200) looks like a cruise ship run aground on North Avenue Beach. The volleyballers can give it too much of a singles vibe, but the sun-soaked roofdeck often features fun live music and the menu boasts chicken tenders, quesadillas, ice-cream cake and other kid-friendly fare.

Kids love The zoo
YOU’LL LOVE Café Brauer (2021 N Stockton Dr) serves cold beer pondside at Lincoln Park Zoo, the perfect stop before watching chicks hatch at Farm-in-the-Zoo. The picnic area around the new Great Bear Wilderness at Brookfield Zoo (3300 Golf Rd, Brookfield, 708-688-8000) is also a great spot to tipple while kids hit the playground.

Kids love Navy Pier
YOU’LL LOVE The state’s most popular tourist attraction (600 E Grand Ave) morphs into a giant beer garden every summer. After exploring the Chicago Children’s Museum, tromp to the Pier’s east end, where crowds thin and lake and city views stun. Grab virgin daiquiris for the kids and a well-fortified one for yourself before climbing to the top-level deck to enjoy a relaxing break above the chaos.

Kids love Summer festivals
YOU’LL LOVE Stick to fests that offer something for the whole family and, preferably, grass to lounge on. Top picks: Chicago Folk & Roots Festival (July 10, 11, Welles Park), Taste of River North (July 17, 18, Erie Park) and Kidzapalooza/Lollapalooza (Aug 6–8, Grant Park).

Kids love Water parks
YOU’LL LOVE Fine tropical drinks await waterlogged parents at KeyLime Cove (1700 Nations Dr, Gurnee, 877-360-0403), Six Flags Great America’s Hurricane Harbor (1 Great America Pkwy, Gurnee, 847-249-1776) and, surprisingly, the indoor Mayan Adventure (624 N York Rd, Elmhurst, 877-426-4386). Best bet: Hit the sand at Hurricane Harbor and grab a hand-blended piña colada.

Kids love Bowling alleys
YOU’LL LOVE While bumpers go up for the kids’ frames, relax with a cold one at the scoring table. That’s what I do at Waveland Bowl (3700 N Western Ave, 773-472-5900), especially during the black-lit Cozmic Kidz sessions Fridays 3–5pm, and Saturdays and Sundays 2–4pm.

Raising the bar
We get it. Mom and Dad just want to be where the big kids are. We’ve got you covered there, too.

PARTY SMARTY Balloon artist Smarty Pants keeps the kids giggling every Tuesday night at D’Agostino’s.
Photo: Erica Gannett

Sneaking a cocktail at a popular summer attraction is one thing, but what about those times you want to just grab a drink in a grown-up establishment without the hassle of hiring a sitter? Try these family-friendly taverns for starters:

O’Donovan’s (2100 W Irving Park Rd, 773-478-2100) anchors a spot that’s in its tenth decade of hosting evenings of table magic (a tradition started in the 1920s by its predecessor, Schulien’s).

D’Agostino’s (1351 W Addison St, 773-477-1822) hosts balloon artist Smarty Pants Tuesday nights. An extra-large pizza, family-sized salad and pitcher of pop will run you $25. Pitchers of the stuff you’re after costs extra.

Beat Kitchen (2100 W Belmont Ave, 773-281-4444) throws Sunday-afternoon kids’ concerts. For $5 per person, kids can jump around to acts such as Mary Macaroni and the Little Miss Ann Band, while mom and dad sip Bloody Marys.

Now, before you feel guilty about tippling around your tots, take it from an expert: “Kids who see their parents drink responsibly will likely have a responsible attitude toward alcohol when they get older,” says Josh Hetherington, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and a faculty member at the Family Institute at Northwestern University.

But should parents draw the line on all that imbibing before the little darlings start referring to wine as “Mama juice”? With four or more drinks per outing meeting the standard for binge drinking, Hetherington says, “Responsible drinking means [no more than] one drink per hour and stopping at three.”

Then again, if you have a nightcap after the kids fall asleep, they’ll never know the difference.

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