by Dan Morgridge
Closing time means you and the gang have to stumble out into the cold cruel world. Cocktails led to dinner, dinner led to the bar, and now the cycle completes with some 2 a.m. munchies. Fine dining establishments are mostly closed, but that doesn’t mean you have to walk through the drive-thru of the local fast food restaurant. Check out these time-honored late-night establishments for that final meal of the night (or rather, the first of the next day…).
There’s no discussion of Chicago late-night eating that can leave out the Wiener Circle. Is it the best place to eat after closing time? Sure, for some. For others, it could probably be the worst dining experience of their lives. If you’re familiar with the abuse shtick of Ed Debevic’s and thought it was charming, you might think the sassy staff of the Wiener Circle would be right up your alley. Of course, “sassy” is putting it nicely – most of the time the staff is downright abusive. The local drunks will never interrupt the flow of business here, simply because every interaction is a battle, and the staff can’t be fazed. If you have thick skin and an empty stomach, The Wiener Circle will provide mediocre food, but a one-in-a-lifetime experience.
An institution at North/Damen/Milwaukee intersection, Flash Taco has been serving up late night grub for ages. Aside from a prime location, the restaurant also has an ATM out front, open bay windows in the summertime, and even a subterranean neighbor (formerly Underdogg, now Heat) who serve up franks if that’s more your style. And their fares–tacos al pastor, veggie nachos, chile rellenos and more–are excellent quality for the midnight hour.
The scene of a Nighthawks-esque diner hardly exists in Chicago anymore – and where it does, it’s more likely a theme restaurant. But for old-school diner authenticity, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better time warp than Diner Grill. The long counter and big windows gaze upon the massive grill, where Ken and his gang cook up classic fare. Of course, it’s main draw at that certain time of night is the challenge of a meal known as “The Slinger”: a layer of hash browns, two cheeseburger patties, two fried eggs, and a smothering of chili for $10. It won’t do anything good to your body, but it will probably cushion your system against whatever terrible things you put in your body earlier in the evening.
One of the densest and oldest bar areas in the city is Clark and Division. Mother’s, The Lodge, Streeter’s – and that’s not even counting nearby Rush Street. But for all the bars in the area, there’s really only one choice for food: Five Faces. Technically known as “Five Faces Ice Cream Shop,” rumor has it that soft serve can be ordered. But the heart, soul, and top-seller of this institution is their Gyros – hot off the spit, covered in generous toppings, and served on a hot crispy pita. The shop can barely fit a line, but it disappears quickly – just like the gyros.
Claudio–or more specifically, his little red cooler–has been a shining beacon of light for drunks all across the city. Like a Santa Claus for the drunk and hungry, his movements seems almost impossibly convenient – how can he always be at the bar when you most need him? Other men have been known to shout out that lovely call of “Tamale, Tamale,” but the city’s best known (and the only one with a twitter tracker) is probably the one you’ll meet just before closing time, sparing you a stumbling trip towards lesser late-night foodstuffs.