If you’re looking for a downtown watering hole and hoping to avoid the uber-expensive hotel bars and dank holdover dives, the Emerald Loop might be the answer. Though it’s not quite a hidden gem, Emerald Loop does offer a convenient refuge for lunch, happy hour or even an after-theater nightcap.
Emerald Loop is located on Wabash between Lake and Wacker, across from the Wit hotel and its 27th floor lounge, Roof. As long as you’re looking up, don’t miss checking out the Emerald Loop’s home. The 40-story 35 E. Wacker Drive Building housing the bar was the tallest building outside New York when it was completed in 1927, designed by Joachim Giaver and Frederick Dinkelberg, disciples of Daniel Burnham. Dubbed the “Jewelers Building” for being home to merchants at the top of “Jewelers Row” (i.e. Wabash) and once actually featured a 22-story car elevator used to whisk paranoid jewelers directly to their stores. The building is a historic landmark, created in the Beaux-Arts style and topped with a stately dome currently serving as world-renowned architect Helmut Jahn’s showroom. In summer, you’ll find a sidewalk cafe setup out front of the bars plate-glass display windows; otherwise a discreet sign above the brass revolving door welcomes you in.
Emerald Loop is cavernous and modern, with a soaring ceiling, dark wooden columns and partitions, and a refined 40 ft. bar that runs along the north wall. Seating is plentiful and possibly optimistic. Numerous banquettes and cocktail tables in the main room are supplemented by a series of auxiliary spaces which can easily accommodate 200. Flatpanels are widely dispersed throughout the space, but unless the Bears or Notre Dame are playing, you’ll find them muted. The multi-person facilities and ATM are located in back.
Emerald Loop’s libations are nothing short of solid: 40 bottled beer selections complement a dozen on tap, offering many alternatives to the properly poured pints of Guinness. There are a dozen faux-tinis and house cocktails, including the John Daly, a mix of lemonade and sweet tea vodka which sets the teetotaling Arnold Palmer on its ear. It should also be mentioned that the Loop offers 18 wines by the glass, a notable total for any establishment and usually associated with wine bar status. Other than $6 Bloody Marys on weekends, the only drink special is a single beer of the month, currently “$4 Heineken pints.” I use pints in quotation marks because the brews are clearly served in supermodel-skinny 14 oz. glasses. Two measly ounces may not seem like much, but if you’re serving me something that’s 12.5% short of a real pint, don’t use the “p” word to describe it.
Given that Emerald Loop is part of a family of bars that includes Corcoran’s, Vaughn’s Pub and Mystic Celt—home to the best shepherd’s pie in town—and the food here rarely disappoints. The menu offers a lengthy selection of apps, salads, sandwiches, wraps and entrees. The food is mostly above-average bar fare with a number of classic Irish dishes like corned beef and cabbage, bangers & mash and chicken curry adding some authentic fare. Food specials are offered Monday-Friday. Service ranges from perfunctory to friendly, literally depending on which server you get. Expect your enjoyment level to vary accordingly.
Loop workers and nearby hotel guests dominate the clientele. So, when the action peaks at 6:15pm, the buzz of office gripes and gossip fills the room. The bar often gets a second rush later in the evening with traffic from the nearby Chicago Theatre and Gene Siskel Film Center, and keeps their kitchen open to serve those with late night munchies. Given that it calls itself a bar rather than a pub, Emerald Loop doesn’t go out of its way to flaunt its Irish roots. That changes during (and after) the annual downtown St. Patrick’s Day parade, when the place is duly decorated, the Guinness and Jameson flow freely and a line forms down the block. (Then again, after the parade when every place with a liquor license is mobbed, I’ve seen people duck into Chipotle when they realize they serve beer.)
For a range of elbow-bending options, a lively after-work scene and late-night menu, the Emerald Loop is a fine place to spend a little green. If you like Emerald Loop, you may want to pay a visit to Coogan’s Riverside Saloon, Gage or Elephant & Castle. For more information, check out the Emerald Loop website. Slainte.