Exploring Chicago's craft cocktail scene is like taking a vacation from the ordinary.
"It's blossomed into something really cool," says Paul McGee, one of the city's top mixologists, whose latest venture is Three Dots and a Dash. "You have specialized bars. Ours is a tiki bar. You've got your tequila-mezcal-craft cocktail bar. You have your whisky-craft-cocktail bar. And the trend that's happening now is the dive-bar-cocktail bar."
So here McGee shares five places to eat, drink and just get outside and enjoy the city's relaxed good-time vibe.
"I would go to one of Chicago's beaches. Staying downtown, there are a couple of beaches that are very close. The main beach is Oak Street Beach. There's volleyball, food and drink there. If you go south toward Hyde Park where the University of Chicago is, there's the 63rd Street Beach, which is really cool, a little bit more mellow. There's food and drink and you get some really cool views of the skyline. The minute it turns 50 degrees here [10 C], people start going to the beach." Oak Street: 1000 N Lake Shore Dr.; 63rd Street: 6300 S Lake Shore Dr., chicagoparkdistrict.com
"I think it's the best bar in the city. It uses a lot of obscure, really thoughtful ingredients in their cocktails. They have an amazing rare spirits selection. Alex Bachman, who is the lead bartender there, specializes in amari and fernet. Try Snakes on a Flag. It has rhum agricole, a Martinique rum, lime juice and banana flavour. It's fantastic, so refreshing, so good. They do a few composed dishes, but the main thing is bar snacks, like olive oil-poached tomatoes, crab dip and pork schnitzel that are perfect accompaniment to the cocktails." 3143 W Logan Blvd., billy-sunday.com
"It's been a staple of Logan Square for 15 years. And Jason Hammel is the chef and owner there. It presents really thoughtful ingredients from very small farms. Very hyper-seasonal, but very approachable and inexpensive. They do a tremendous brunch business. He does a special Farm Dinner every Monday. It's a prix fixe menu, four courses and around $40 [U.S.]." 2537 N Kedzie Ave., lulacafe.com
Parson's Chicken & Fish
"It's a small, indoor space with an enormous patio that has picnic tables, an outdoor bar and a ping-pong table. They have really good fried chicken and fried fish and also these amazing hush puppies that are almost like a fritter. Their specialty drink is called a Negroni Slushy with gin, sweet vermouth and bitters. I think they add orange juice and a little bit of grapefruit juice. They're dangerously smooth and delicious. It's a great place to be outside. Really cool, very casual." 2952 W Armitage Ave., parsonschickenandfish.com
"Sydney R. Marovitz Golf Course is fun and not too hard for beginners and offers a challenge for the better golfers, too. It's nine holes. It's right on the lake near Lincoln Park. If you want to get outside and really enjoy the surroundings, it's a really green parkland golf course with large trees and one of the only golf courses that's close to downtown." 3600 N Recreation Dr. (Lake Shore Drive), sydneymarovitz.cpdgolf.com
This interview has been edited and condensed.