If you follow me on Instagram, than you've probably seen me frequenting one bar more than any other this summer.
It's become my go-to spot for girl's night cocktails, Friday afternoon happy hours, and everything in-between.
Z Bar, the newest rooftop bar on Michigan Avenue.
Many of you have messaged me or emailed me asking about Z Bar these last few weeks -- specifically why I like it so much and... whether or not I "really like it" or just like it for Instagram (for the record I would NEVER post about anything I didn't truly love and feel was worth the money). But the question is a valid one as I work with the Peninsula here in Chicago a lot professionally. My pug Apollo even modeled in the Z Bar commercial last March!
So let me put these fears to rest. Z Bar is my new favorite Gold Coast bar because it deserves to be. Hands down deserves to be. If I quit my blog and Instagram tomorrow, I'd still be drinking here all the time on my own dime.
Between the gorgeous views of the Water Tower and the John Hancock along Michigan Avenue, the stunning glass patio, the swoon-worthy food and the unique cocktails, Z Bar is one of a kind here in Chicago.
5 Reasons I (Really) Love Z Bar
Z Bar's interior is a swanky, quirky mixture of playfulness and sophistication. It's not what I expected from the Peninsula but that's perhaps what makes it so interesting.
Much of the interior is filled with plush couches, lush velvets, and beautiful marbling. There are also firepits scattered throughout the patio and a fireplace inside as well. It's a very different space to any of the other spaces in the Peninsula and the quirky pug portraits all around just add to the charm.
I struggle to think of a single bar in the Gold Coast with a better view than Z Bar.
You're high enough over Michigan Avenue to enjoy the view of the Water Tower and the John Hancock beyond without distractions. But you're still low enough to have a great view without any vertigo (one of my main complaints with many rooftops here in Chicago -- who wants to feel queasy when they're drinking at a bar?).
But what makes the view from Z Bar so special and unique is the architecture of the bar itself. Wrapping around the patio is a large, patterned glass and gold awning which creates a visually striking juxtaposition with the urban landscape beyond. It blends in while standing out. And creates such a unique effect with the highrises all around.
I could easily shoot this patio for years and still not get all the angles I want -- it's that interesting!
I may be in the minority saying this but a bar's food is almost MORE important than their cocktails.
Bar food can be such a missed opportunity. Such an after-thought. All too often designed to be "Instagrammable" more than edible.
And rooftop bars are often the worst offenders!
But, like any of the Peninsula's projects, delicious food is at the front and center of it all. And for that, I couldn't be more grateful.
Over the last few weeks I've eaten my way through most of Z Bar's menu. I've yet to meet anything I didn't like but there are a few dishes I especially LOVED and have ordered time and time again each time I've returned:
Z Bar's delicious tiered tower of seafood heaven.
Between the lobster, the king crab, the oysters, and the shrimp, this is one filling but oh-so-worth-it splurge. Loving oysters like I do, I'm BEYOND thrilled the Peninsula now offers them on one of their menus. And, I am happy to report, they were just as good as I'd hoped they'd be.
No, this isn't your grandmother's version of high tea (or the Peninsula's version at that). Z Bar's "high tea" is actually a soup so slurp-worthy you're guaranteed to need a PILE of napkins to consume it.
(But I very strongly recommend wearing prints when you order this dish... no matter how daintily I try to slurp it, I ALWAYS end up with coconut broth all over myself)
Delicious modern Burmese coconut broth is mixed with lime and cilantro to form a soul-comforting combination of sweet, sour, and a little spice. Like Thai take-out melded with Gold Coast elegance. And man am I addicted to it...
My favorite dish on the menu. This silky ceviche isn't ground-breaking with it's flavors but it's all that I love about ceviche in one dish: simple, high-quality fish with a finger-licking marinade.
Between the hamachi, pineapple, and avocado, each bite is PACKED with flavor. I could easily order this as a dinner for myself regularly (I'm not terribly good at sharing anyways).
Strawberries & Cream
Hands down my new favorite dessert in Chicago! I've never had anything like this -- even in Italy.
Sweet strawberry gelée encased in mascarpone cream and drizzled in balsamic reduction and pistachio oil? And all designed to look more like a burrata & tomato appetizer than a dessert?
Yup, this is one of the coolest desserts I've ever shared on the blog.
But more importantly, it's also one of the most delicious desserts I've shared. Each bite is soft, pillowy and sinful. It's tart, sweet, and cooling all at the same time. The flavors are bright and fresh but somewhat hard to describe. You'll need to try it for yourseld.
If you come to Z Bar and order just one dish, make it this one. And please feel free to invite me along to help "taste test" (now that I've given Z Bar my stamp of approval, I need to continue to check and make sure everything is still up to par, right?).
Despite all that I've said about the importance of good food at a bar, a bar is NOTHING without a killer cocktail list.
And luckily Z Bar have developed a huge range of drinks to please just about any palate.
My current favorites include:
(a floral gin cocktail served in a jewel blue martini glass)
(with vodka, raspberry and aperol)
The Old Fashioned
(garnished with young walnuts -- be sure to try these as they're so rare to find on a menu and positively delicious when executed correctly)
The Pug Decor
Alright here's where my bias for Z Bar really comes into play...
Much of the bar is designed around a "pug theme".
You read that right, a PUG THEME.
When the team at the Peninsula first hinted to me that they planned to do some "squishy face" decor, I just about leapt out of my seat...
"My favorite Chicago hotel is building a bar themed off my favorite animal? Is this for real?"
YES. IT. IS.
From the pug-faced appetizer plates to the pug-faced portraits, Z Bar is THE bar for pug-lovers the world over. And I now shamelessly show-off the photos I took of my pug Apollo modeling in the space (possibly my favorite shoot TO DATE).
If nothing else -- even if pugs "aren't your thing" -- appreciate the fact that NO ONE can be sad around a pug. So a bar filled with pug faces? That's just about the happiest place on earth in my book.
(And can we all appreciate my sister's completely candid response to seeing the pug plates for the first time in the background of this shot? If you'd shot my first impression of these plates, it would've looked identical.)
Despite my totally biased love for their pug decor, Z Bar deserves a place at the top of your "must visit" list.
Between the killer dishes, swoon-worthy view, and potent cocktails, Z Bar's first season has been a SMASHING success. I don't remember ever loving a hotel bar this much (outside of Vegas). And, as the Peninsula evolves the space and menu, I expect to fall even more in love with it.
In the coming months, I suspect Z Bar will take a proud and much-earned place among Chicago's most established bars.
Their tongue-in-cheek attitude to luxurious cocktails is just too unforgettable.