Navy Pier in a shot: Navy Pier covers more than 50 acres and extends nearly a half mile into Lake Michigan.
Okay, you’re about a third of the way down the pier and in full sensory overload. You realize you’re nowhere near the end, your dogs are barking, and dodging all those gulls, pigeons and rugrats is making you thirsty. What you need at this point is a refuge and a little comfort. That’s where Charlie’s Ale House comes in.
Charlie’s is located just past the ubiquitous fast food court, accessible from either outside or from within. The outside area consists of a good sized patio with plenty of seating and a canopy overhead to block the elements. Have a server grab you a table or pass on through to the interior, where a separate host doles out seating, unless you’d prefer a barstool. The elegant dark wood bar dominates the interior, jutting into the room like a boomerang. The look of a typical neighborhood bar is completed by the ornate matching bar-back, tin ceiling and assorted tavern and Chicago artifacts. The inside seating is a bit limited, with assorted highboy and low-slung tables filling the space. The owners of Charlie’s on Navy Pier also run outlets in the far north Andersonville neighborhood and Munster, Indiana. The original location, now called Charlie’s on Webster, is no longer related, but the spin-offs have closely followed the spirit and ambiance of their namesake.
Navy Pier in a shot: The University of Illinois-Chicago campus made its home on Navy Pier from 1946-1965.
Charlie’s menu is a pared down version of their other locations with a distinct emphasis on comfort food. In addition to staples like meatloaf and mac & cheese, popular items include the chicken pot pie—served in an over-sized casserole dish with a flaky pastry crust crown the size of a chef’s hat—and the chicken Milanese—essentially a salad with a bed of greens, tomatoes and shaved parmesan beneath a layer of lightly breaded chicken. A daily blue-plate special is also offered, with selections like fish & chips (not all you can eat) on Friday.
The beer list at Charlie’s Ale House surpasses anything else you’ll find on the pier, with 16 draughts and three dozen bottles at the ready. And beyond the impressive selection, the monthly $4 pint specials such as Bell’s Oberon, are a pleasant surprise. As is the case with all establishments on the pier, you can grab any drink to-go, which is especially nice when you just don’t feel like another Bud. As you’d expect, the crowd is made up of 99% tourists/day-trippers. (As a neighborhood resident who dines here on occasion, I personally make up the other 1%.)
Navy Pier in a shot: After two decades of disuse, Navy Pier was re-opened in 1995 at a cost of $150 million.
For an excellent selection of intoxicants and comfort food, Charlie’s Ale House is always a good bet on Navy Pier. If down-home cooking is your thing, consider finding time for a meal at Stanley’s Kitchen and Tap in Old Town or Silver Cloud in the eclectic Bucktown neighborhood. Chicago Bar Project tip: Don’t spend $24 for weekend parking on the pier. The AON center at 200 E. Randolph offers weekend parking specials starting at $6. Just walk four blocks to Columbus and Illinois and take the free Navy Pier trolley the rest of the way. This is even better if a visit to Millennium Park is on the itinerary. For more information, check out the Charlie’s Ale House website.