To book a reservation at Armitage Alehouse, Brendan Sodikoff’s latest addition to the Hogsalt Hospitality restaurant empire, you’ll need a routine—and likely a fair bit of luck, too. The Anglo-Indian gastropub releases new openings every morning at 9am, which fill up astonishingly fast (as in less than a minute) even for less appealing weeknight slots (as in 10:15pm on a Wednesday). Walking in appears to present similar difficulties: When I visited on a Tuesday night, a few walk-ins lingered forlornly in the restaurant’s front vestibule; on weekends, I’ve heard stories of lines leading out the door.
So why are people electing to wait around in a Chicago winter—or frantically refresh Resy every morning—to eat at Armitage Alehouse? It might have something to do with Hogsalt’s pedigree and the hospitality group's reputation for drumming up excitement around its restaurants (look no further than block-long lines outside Doughnut Vault or multi-hour waits, even years after opening, for the famous Au Cheval cheeseburger).
I’d also stake a bet on the restaurant’s decor, an intimate homage to the pubs of 1920s England that offers some of the most gorgeous dining scenery I’ve ever experienced in Chicago. Hogsalt’s proclivity for dim lighting and glitzy design is on full display here, with walls covered in clusters of antique oil paintings, chandeliers overhead and hand-carved wooden detailing lining the booths—it's a little like stepping into an episode of some BBC period drama, or the house of a moneyed lord in the British countryside. My dining partner and I scored a table ringed by two massive Chesterfield armchairs directly in front of the dining room’s fireplace, which seemed like a coup until we noticed that every nook of the restaurant—from the gleaming wood bar to a cubby-like corner booth—had a similarly special feel. In a city full of restaurants favoring a certain sleek, spartan design to signal their high-end credentials, that’s a real accomplishment.
But hype and covetable antiques can only go so far. Could people be flocking here for the food, too? On this point I’m less convinced. That’s not to say that you’ll leave disappointed with your meal, but it’s difficult to pinpoint any single dish among the menu’s selection of elevated pub fare that makes Armitage Alehouse a culinary destination. London-style curries, like the chicken tikka masala, are hearty but favor the Brits’ conservative approach to spice. On the more classically British side of things, a rotating selection of pot pies offer a winningly flaky crust and, in the case of the heritage chicken variation we tried, a serviceable medley of veggies and chicken folded into glossy gravy (take care to avoid these pies if you don’t eat red meat, as they come topped with a marrow-filled beef bone regardless of the filling inside).
Less traditional takes on Anglo-Indian cuisine, like an endive salad topped with shaved paneer and glistening cubes of mango, make for Armitage Alehouse’s most memorable offerings. Still, the menu’s price points are enough to make you wince sometimes—it’s hard to justify springing for a side of $9 fries, or $13 broccoli dressed simply in butter, oil and lemon. And while we devoured an order of pillowy, stone-fired naan, the assortment of chutneys and spreads for dipping will cost you $3 a pop, so choose your options wisely.
If you’re looking for Indian-inflected English pub fare, you’ll find several other Chicago restaurants—Pleasant House Pub and the recently reopened Owen & Engine come to mind—that satisfy as much (or more) than Armitage Alehouse, and likely for much less hassle. Give this one another couple months before rushing to log onto Resy every day, unless you're a diehard Anglophile who can't resist a proper pint and a pie.
The vibe: A wood-burning fireplace and ornate antique decor—assembled to model the London pubs of yesteryear—are paired with cloistered, intimate seating to make this one of the coziest (and most beautiful) spots to dine in Chicago right now.
The food: Fancy takes on British pub fare ranging from fish and chips to pot pies, plus the mild curries and chutneys of Anglo-Indian cuisine.
The drink: A curious draft beer list swings from Ireland (Guinness and Harp) to British-style ales sourced from American breweries like North Coast and Three Floyds, with some imported options among the bottles and cans. Classic cocktails and a lengthy, well-curated wine list offer lots of variation, and a neat selection of dessert wines and digestifs practically demand a post-meal nightcap.
Time Out tip: You might try walking in on a Tuesday or Wednesday night—otherwise, don’t forget to set those 9am alarms if you’re hoping for a reservation at a reasonable hour.