Life in the windy city

Anne Gallagher visits Chicago's hotspots to see where lawyers will spend their spare time

While that loveable urchin Oliver sings for food on London's stages, Chicago restaurateurs and bar keepers are the ones preparing for an onslaught of 20,000 hungry and thirsty lawyers expected to attend the American Bar Association's annual meeting from 4 to 11 August in Chicago.

For both the conference veterans and the uninitiated, Chicago offers thousands of eateries and entertainment hot spots. These range from the hallowed establishments near the Federal and State Courts and along the financial district – known to locals as the Loop – to the more pricey fare in the nearby West Loop, River North and Gold Coast areas and extending into a bevy of surrounding neighbourhoods that could compete with most international cities.

For the pure sport of hobnobbing with Chicago lawyers and judges, out-of-towners should head to Binyons, a venerable institution located on Plymouth Court just a few short steps from the Federal Courthouse.

Known as much for its turtle soup as its clubby upstairs bar, Binyons has long been one of the favourite haunts of Chicago litigators.

“If you stop by in the evenings, you are bound to run in to a lawyer you know,” says Steve Molo, a well-known litigator at Chicago's Winston & Strawn.

Other popular lawyer spots in the Loop, a reference to the square loop made around the financial district by Chicago's rival to the Tube, the elevated trains known as the 'L', include the Italian Village. There is the basement Tratttoria no.10 and Berghoff's, a dark-panelled German eatery with a well attended stand-up food bar at lunch.

But for those looking for action rather than lawyers, some Chicago residents suggest Gene & Georgetti's, an Italian steak restaurant located north of the Loop at Franklin and Illinois Streets. According to local lore, patrons here are known to cut more deals than steaks, and in a typical American fashion the steaks are indeed plentiful.

“It has long been a personal favourite and I find its reputation for both deals and steaks to be consistently good,” says Chicago sports lawyer, frequent diner and dealmaker Michael A Unger.

Nearby favourites also include the East Bank Club, the health spa which its most famous member Oprah Winfrey calls home, with its highly regarded cafe for Chicago's power breakfast crowd. Just three city blocks away are both the Hotel Nikko, which houses another haven for morning crowd nibblers and Michael Jordan's Restaurant.

At Jordan's, any patrons fortunate enough to drive up in Chevy Blazers – the sport utility vehicle which His Airness hawks – will receive free valet parking. But patrons come here not for the free car park or the over-priced hamburgers, but to be part of this Chicago cultural icon's aura.

In Chicago there is truly a place for every taste. There is the yuppie crowd at the Rush and Division Street bars and cafes and the world-famous blues bars; the Billy Goat Tavern made famous on 'Saturday Night Live' off the magnificent mile known as Michigan Avenue; the ethnic delights of Chinatown, Greektown or the Italian fare on which Chicago politicians feed at Taylor Street in the South Loop.

But ask the most esteemed members of the Chicago legal scene – its judges – where to amuse oneself and even more opportunities emerge.

“I highly recommend partaking of the new Ferris wheel at Navy Pier or a quick sandwich on the steps of the Adler Planetarium, where you have a wonderful view of Lake Michigan,” enthuses Justice Shelia O'Brien of the Illinois Appellate Court.

Or for those of hardy mind or spirit, Hon. Wayne Andersen, a federal district judge, recommends renting a bicycle for a lively jaunt up the coast of Lake Michigan to the Foster Avenue Beach. “I'd stop for lunch at the Waveland Avenue Snack Shop,” he advises.

Located on the first tee of the Waveland Avenue golf course, Andersen says a rest here might just be the perfect Chicago stopping point.

But when Chicago has become too much for the weary globe-trotting lawyer, there is always the Red Lion, a home away from home for Britons. Serving lagers and ale as well as traditional pub fare, the pub on Lincoln Avenue is a welcome home for expatriates and Chicago's many anglophiles.

Anne Gallagher is The Lawyer's US correspondent.