Hidden Chicago

Chicago bars, shops, sights and restaurants that are secret gems that locals love

Psst ... want to discover some of the city’s top-secret spots? Make tracks to these hidden gems, tucked away in corners all over the city.

Watering holes don’t get any more obscure than The Violet Hour (1520 N. Damen Ave., 773.252.1500), behind whose unmarked facade lies a lovely lounge that boasts some of the city’s most meticulously made cocktails. On the second floor of the chichi Walforf Astoria Hotel, clubby Bernard’s Bar (11 E. Walton St., 312.646.1300) beckons with plush velvet banquettes and low, low lighting—not to mention spot-on classic drinks and addictive house-made potato chips. The Underground Wonder Bar (710 N. Clark St., 312.266.7761) injects some soul into River North with music 365 days a year, from reggae and blues to jazz from owner Lonie Walker. And nobody will find you at dark, intimate Wang’s (3317 N. Broadway, 773.296.6800), a Boystown nook that seduces with sexy Shanghai-style decor, a pumping club soundtrack, and potent lychee and ginger martinis.

Head to the seventh floor of the Loop’s Garland Building for authentic New Orleansstyle nosh like po’boys and jambalaya at Heaven on Seven (111 N. Wabash Ave., 312.262.6443). In Lakeview, a basement setting makes Chilam Balam (3023 N. Broadway, 773.296.6901) easy to miss—but locals know that its seasonal Mexican cuisine is worth hunting down. Want to bypass the weekend wait at tapas classic Café Iberico? Head upstairs to sister restaurant Pintxos (737 N. LaSalle Dr., 312.664.4800) for made-to-order tortillas españolas and skewered grilled meats, minus the crowds.

Sheltered in a sunken outdoor plaza in the Loop, Marc Chagall’s “The Four Seasons” (10 S. Dearborn St.) is a colorful, 70-foot mosaic portraying six city scenes that takes even locals by surprise. And everyone knows Michigan Avenue is a shopper’s paradise, but the street is also home to LUMA, the Loyola University Museum of Art (820 N. Michigan Ave., 312.915.7600), whose eight galleries showcase a variety of works. And no matter how often we visit, we always find something new to love at the Art Institute of Chicago. Our latest crush? The lush, tree-filled South Garden (111 S. Michigan Ave.), which beckons with a soothing reflecting pool and gurgling fountain.

For brand-new collections, head to Blake (212 W. Chicago Ave., 312.202.0047). The lack of signage and window displays keeps this fashion beacon inconspicuous, but the well-edited shop houses bold-name designers like Givenchy and Martin Margiela. The Wicker Park Secret Agent Supply Co. (1331 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773.772.8108) may not sound like much, but it’s merely a front; behind the drab entrance is a shop full of secret-agent gear (think X-ray glasses and disguise kits), as well as the headquarters of non-profit writing center 826Chicago.