324 S. Racine Ave. (300S, 1200W)
Chicago, IL 60607
"The Finest Home Cooking In Town"
Long renowned for their southern-inspired home cooking, casual atmosphere and midnight mashed potato bar, Stanley's Kitchen & Tap has spread out with a second location in the west Loop. While it can't quite compare to the Lincoln Park original, its excellent outdoor space and bone-sticking grub in a neighborly atmosphere deserves a visit.
Stanley's Kitchen & Tap, a.k.a. Stan's U.S. 66, resides within earshot of the Eisenhower expressway in the site formerly occupied by a pair of similarly named restaurants, Tutto Orsi and Tutto Bene. A leftover feature from the previous tenants, Stanley's boasts something 99.9% of Chicago bars can't: free parking. The narrow lot on the south side of the building has been halved from its former size, but is still a nice perk for 10 or so cars, while the remaining space has been converted into one of the nicest patios and beer gardens in the neighborhood.
Stanley's main entrance bisects the outdoor area, which spans the building's entire southern exposure (the best for catching rays). There's a covered section at one end for those seeking shade, a lifeguard stand and well-placed signs from the old transient Cedar Hotel and the former Melvin B's Truck Stop, which in its day hosted one of the city's wildest beer garden scenes at the base of the hotel. Seating/standing room is plentiful and includes an interesting free-standing leather booth at one end. For those seeking a little activity or a means to drink even faster, the patio also provides room for the South Side craze that's sweeping the nation: bags (or "cornhole" if you prefer. I don't.)
For those that have been to the original location in Lincoln Park, Stanley's interior will look strikingly familiar, if a bit backwards. Instead of a bar in front with the restaurant in back, patrons enter into the dining area, with a hostess stand at the front. A 1950's farm house-barn motif dominates the area, with the exception of the row of clocks displaying the time in various world cities. Note the empty space above the Las Vegas plaque.
Access the bar through a pass-through located along the dining room wall and you'll encounter a narrow dark wood-filled room that more closely resembles an old neighborhood tavern. A handsome service bar runs the length of the northern wall, with a communal table down the center of the room and ample table seating behind. Flatpanel TVs give a good view of the game from most seats and there's also a jukebox and selection of board games should you find the conversation lagging.
As a Certified Purveyor of the Miller High Life, Stanley's doesn't get too fancy with their drink list. There are a half-dozen 18-oz. specialty cocktails like the Electric Coolade, which is powerful enough to come with a two-drink limit. Richard's Wild Irish Rose is served for "Market Price" (it's about $2 a bottle retail). You'll find ten beers on tap, nine of which are domestic, and another 20 in bottles and cans ranging from the likes of Fat Tire and Shiner Bock to $1.79 cans of Hamm's. Stanley's is also known for their selection of American whiskies, should you have a taste for it. For those looking for an early start to their weekend, UIC night is held on Thursdays, with numerous food and drink specials to tempt cash-strapped coeds. Every Wednesday, Stanley's host an open mic that ranges from music to comedy to poetry. And while it's sometimes hard to tell between the latter two, the $5 all you can eat pizza & pasta buffet and $3.50 pints more than compensate.
Perhaps Stanley's most famous event is their Sunday all-you-can-eat brunch (10am-4pm) for a paltry $11.95. It's not the fanciest spread, but the fact you can have waffles and fried chicken (some of the best around) in the same meal is worth the trip alone. There's no Bloody Mary bar at the west loop location, but the over-sized cocktail they serve comes with a virtual meal skewered on top.
Most people generally know that "comfort food" is code for "bad for you." It's just that Stanley's does it so well. The menu starts with hummus (?) and then gets down to business with classically prepared classics like pulled-pork, meatloaf, catfish and country-fried everything. Nothing on the menu runs above $14, underlining the overall unpretentiousness of the place. I could say more, but the food pretty much speaks for itself.
The refreshingly diverse crowd at Stanley's is generally laid-back to match the atmosphere. The growing ranks of West Loop condo dwellers provide a good base of regulars, with college students, gawkers and the pre/post-event United Center crowd swelling the ranks. While this Stanley's doesn't draw quite the weekend meat market crowd of the original—how could it?—but there are far worse places in the city to find yourself partying and single.
If you're looking for some down-home cookin', a friendly spot to catch up, watch the game or if you have dangerously low cholesterol, Stanley's in the West Loop is a solid call. If you like Stanley's, you may want to saunter over for the comfort food at Twin Anchors, Silver Cloud or Wishbone. For more information, check out the Stanley's website. Mmm-hmm.
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