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Time Out Love Chicago Awards 2014: Downtown

A locals' guide to downtown: the Loop, West Loop and South Loop. Here are the area’s top stores, bars, coffee shops, music venues, theaters and restaurants

By Time Out contributors, edited by Laura Baginski
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Time Out readers have spoken, and below are the venues they named their absolute favorite in the Loop, West Loop and South Loop. So the next time you’re downtown and in need of food, drink or retail therapy, make a beeline for these places and you won’t go wrong.

RECOMMENDED: Full list of Time Out Love Chicago Awards winners

The winners

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Photograph: Martha Williams

RESTAURANT: The Publican

Restaurants American West Loop

Paul Kahan’s crowd-pleasing European-style beer hall is beloved by tourists and locals alike. Stop in after work to snack on its trademark spicy pork rinds and study the extensive beer list, or stay for dinner and order the roast chicken with frites. On the weekends, brunch features everything from perfectly scrambled eggs with lobster to a version of chicken and waffles only the Publican could pull off, a sourdough oven pancake topped with a bacon-wrapped chicken thigh.

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Photograph: Christian Seel

BAR: The Aviary

Bars Lounges West Loop

Chicago’s favorite downtown bar is missing only one thing—the bar. You can peer behind a metal cage to see drinks being concocted by Grant Achatz’s team, led by Micah Melton. No vessel is off-limits for serving, with an expertly crafted old-fashioned appearing inside a perfect sphere of ice, a sazerac in a flask and a cognac-filled teapot billowing with dry ice. With all the whimsy, theatrics and booze, it’s hard not to find yourself smitten.

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COFFEE SHOP: Intelligentsia

Restaurants Coffee shops Loop

Seattle gave the world Starbucks, Oakland birthed Blue Bottle, but Chicago is the hometown of Intelligentsia (which now has outposts in New York and LA), where coffee is roasted and prepared with clinical precision. On an average weekday morning, you’ll find a line of Loop workers queued up at the shop’s two downtown locations while a team of baristas prepare cup after cup of pour-over coffee. It’s the rare caffeine fix that’s actually worth the wait.

SHOP: Pastoral

Shopping Specialist food and drink Loop

Small-batch artisan cheeses are cut to order at this friendly, well-stocked wine-and-cheese shop. Menu items, like the London Calling sandwich of smoked Scottish salmon, cucumber and quark spread, are perfect for a quick lunch in one of the handful of seats on the outdoor patio, and the to-go picnic baskets (choose from cheese-, meat- and Bavarian-focused packages, among many other styles) are perfect for a Millennium Park concert.

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Photograph: Max Herman

MUSIC VENUE: City Winery

Buddy Guy's Legends dates back a quarter century. The Jazz Showcase opened its door not long after the end of World War II. Yet it was this New York import, started by the founders of the famed Knitting Factory, that stole voters' hearts with its draught pinot gris and lineup of veteran singer-songwriters. Sitting at the end of Restaurant Row, City Winery Chicago now has sisters in Napa and Nashville.

View winners by category

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