Places to Party

February 2023 View more

By Phil Vettel

From festive restaurants to crafty cocktail dens to decadent dessert spots, here’s our guide to celebratory settings

Piccolo Buco's carbonara pizze
Piccolo Buco’s carbonara pizze

5 Festive Restaurants

Favorite eateries for gatherings large and small


1818 Oakbrook Center, Oak Brook

The full name of this Italian concept is Piccolo Buco by Cooper’s Hawk, and, like its wine-focused sibling, it’s the brainchild of CEO Tim McEnery. Piccolo Buco seems designed with parties in mind: The interior is spacious, easily accommodating groups of all (well, most) sizes, and the pizza-centric menu is perfect for sharing. Add in Piccolo Buco’s budget-friendly wine options, and there’s plenty to celebrate.

PARTY SPECS: Accommodates groups up to 10 on the wait list.

A PEEK AT THE MENU: Crispy stuffed squash blossoms with four cheeses, preserved lemon aïoli, and tomato fondue; carbonara pizze with guanciale, cured egg yolk, and basil; and chocolate hazelnut cake with gianduja ganache, orange confit, crème anglaise, candied hazelnuts, and vanilla gelato.


Fat Rosie’s piñata cake
Fat Rosie’s colorful varieties of margaritas
Fat Rosie’s piñata cake and colorful varieties of margaritas


22 E. Chicago Ave., Naperville

This restaurant’s recent relocation (nearly tripling its size) has greatly expanded its party potential. Colorful and boisterous, Fat Rosie’s seems designed for festive times. The straightforward Mexican menu includes such fun touches as a three-pound burrito (polish it off in 12 minutes or less, and it’s free), a piñata cake that spills sprinkles when you cut into it, and an almost-literal tequila “flight” that’s brought to the table on a model airplane.

PARTY SPECS: Packages available for groups of 10 to 100. There’s also a private tequila tasting room for special events.

A PEEK AT THE MENU: Cerviche Campechano with shrimp and fish, habanero-mango leche de tigre, and banana chips; Empanadas de Carne with ground-beef-stuffed turnovers, tomatillo-avocado salsa, and queso fresco; and Pepino Picoso with petunia mezcal, muddled cucumber, habanero syrup, jalapeños, lime, and agave


Graceful Ordinary’s strip steak
Graceful Ordinary’s strip steak


3 E. Main St., St. Charles

Elegant enough for a major milestone observance and large enough for a rehearsal dinner, the Graceful Ordinary abounds with appealing settings, whether it be cocktails on the sofa in the fireplace lounge or dinner on the terrace overlooking the Fox River. Or reserve one of the counter-height, kitchen-view tables, where chef-partner Chris Curren will prepare a custom tasting menu for parties of four to six.

PARTY SPECS: Accommodates events up to 300 guests. Private dining room available as well as the fireplace lounge.

A PEEK AT THE MENU: 10-ounce Strip Steak with wildfire blue cheese, confit potatoes, wax beans, and black garlic vinaigrette; Maytag Bleu Cheese, whipped with poached pear and pistachio granola; and Octopus Carpaccio with lemon puree, chili oil, and pickled mustard seeds


Lucca chef Claudio Ulivieri
Lucca chef Claudio Ulivieri


1415 W. 22nd St., Oak Brook

Everything about this restaurant seems celebratory. The spacious dining room and bar area are abuzz with people having a good time; there always seems to be a table or two of diners marking a birthday, an anniversary, or something. Lucca tends to draw a dressier-than-usual crowd. Chef Claudio Ulivieri’s offerings, in my view, are worth celebrating all by themselves.

PARTY SPECS: Four spaces that can accommodate 35 to 80 people each. Or rent the whole restaurant (up to 350 people).

A PEEK AT THE MENU: Brodetto di Pesce with mussels, shrimp, clams, and calamari in a fin fish broth; Tortino Caldo, a chocolate peanut-butter lava cake with warm peanut-butter sauce, hot-fudge sauce, vanilla gelato (on the cover), powdered sugar, strawberry and mint garnish; and the Limoncino Martini with homemade Lucca limoncino, Hangar 1 vodka, fresh squeezed lemon juice, and simple syrup, garnished with a smoke bubble



211 W. Front St., Wheaton

Donna Hesik’s cute-as-a-button bistro with attached patisserie often features live music Saturday evenings. In the earlier hours you can enjoy afternoon tea (offered daily, but by reservation only). “Some ladies do like to celebrate that way,” Hesik says. Also open for Mardi Gras, Easter brunch, and (of course) Bastille Day.

PARTY SPECS: Accommodates events from two to 60. Catering available as well.

A PEEK AT THE MENU: P.E.I. Mussels; Quiche du Jour; and the Beef Bourguignon Crepe with red wine, braised with mushrooms and carrots for six hours

Stolp Island Social's Aurora Borealis
Raise a glass with Stolp Island Social’s Aurora Borealis

6 Crafty Cocktail Dens

Potent potables add some flair to the party

When I think about the way my parents drank—the era of the highball—cocktails meant a couple of splashes of liquor, some effervescent bottled mixer, a quick serve, and stir. Now you grab a seat at a bar and watch a professional create magic with top-shelf alcohol, myriad imported liqueurs, and housemade syrups and infusions.

Truly great cocktail lounges can be hard to find—the world can only support so many of them—but over the last 25 years or so, serious cocktails have become an indispensable part of the dining experience, especially if you are celebrating.

Here is the must-try drink at each of five restaurants that boast the kind of cocktail menus you can build a party around.


Stolp Island Social
5 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora

Stolp Island’s thoughtfully assembled cocktail program is due mostly to general manager Tara Young-Ramos, who came up with her novel drinks while working as the restaurant’s dining-room manager. The Aurora Borealis is arguably the best of the bunch, a play on a classic Aviation cocktail. It includes gin, crème de cassis, maraschino liqueur, and, for visual appeal, edible glitter. “It’s used often in baking,” Young-Ramos explains. “I thought it would look good in a cocktail.” Guests are advised to stir the drink, using the lemon-peel garlic, suspending the glitter from top to bottom. Originally, Young-Ramos used blue glitter; lately she’s decided that pink works best.


Niche's Gett Figgy With It
Niche’s Gett Figgy With It


14 S. 3rd St., Geneva

One of the west suburbs’ best fine-dining destinations has an equally worthy cocktail menu whose offerings rotate with the seasons. One of the recent additions is Get Figgy With It—the base flavor comes from figs and dates that have been marinating in rye whiskey for almost a week. “We use a hand blender to mash it all up,” says owner Vince Balistreri, “and then run it through a chinois [fine-mesh sieve] to filter it.” The fruit-infused rye is balanced with Aperol, Amaro Montenegro, and lemon juice, and shaken with egg white.



18 E. 1st St., Hinsdale

This Japanese restaurant’s beverage program is understandably strong with sake options, but there are gems among Nabuki’s craft cocktails, notably this global take on a classic old-fashioned, using Suntory Toki whiskey, Averna (a bitter Italian liqueur), coffee liqueur, Demerara syrup, and angostura and cocoa bitters.


The Indian Harvest’s Masalarita
The Indian Harvest’s Masalarita


The Indian Harvest
796 Royal St. George Dr., Naperville

This sophisticated Indian restaurant has a remarkable cocktail menu, designed by owner Sanjeev Pandey’s daughter, Vasu. Drinks have clever names (such as Chai Not?), but the best of the group (and, not coincidentally, the restaurant’s bestseller) is the Masalarita, a mango margarita spiced up with sambal powder, Tajín, and curry leaves. This drink is not for the faint of palate, but it’s delicious.



Il Mio
30 S. Prospect Ave., Clarendon Hills

Another play on the classic old-fashioned, this time with a little Italian flair. To the bourbon, bitters, and sugar blend, Il Mio’s riff adds some Italian amaro, giving the drink a sharper finish.


Vie’s Devil in the White City
Vie’s Devil in the White City


4471 Lawn Ave., Western Springs

For my money, the best cocktail program in the west suburbs resides in Paul Virant’s fine-dining restaurant in Western Springs. Taking his inspiration from the Erik Larson book set in Chicago, bar manager Patrick Swanson set out to reimagine a Negroni with a Chicago accent. The drink uses orange-infused Tanqueray Sevilla gin, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, and, instead of Campari, mixes in Malört, a liqueur that was created in Chicago in the 1930s. Some find Malört to be over-the-top bitter, but this drink is balanced beautifully.

Capital Grille Cheesecake
Indulge with the Capital Grille Cheesecake

5 Decadent Dessert Spots

Perfect toppers for any commemoration or just basic revelry

Celebrations need a punctuation. Whether as an after-meal capper or as its own outing, desserts bring joy to any occasion—or maybe that’s just part of the sugar high. Regardless, desserts have to sell themselves. They need to dazzle; they need to seduce. An ideal dessert looks so appealing that people order it when they see it being paraded through the dining room.

Fruity, chocolatey, or on fire, these five sweets are irresistible—and party-worthy.


Capital Grille
87 Yorktown Shopping Center, Lombard

Such a pedestrian name for such a wonderful dessert. On a base crust made from crushed Nilla wafers sits a tall (about two inches) ricotta cheesecake, light and airy, topped with sugar broiled to a glassy crust, thus creating a best-of-both-worlds mix of cheesecake and crème brulée. Fresh berries and mint, over a shallow pool of strawberry sauce, gives the dessert a vibrant finish.



Vistro Prime
112 S. Washington St., Hinsdale

This flaming dessert that was invented in New Orleans in the early 1950s is hard to find on modern menus, likely because its tableside preparation is so labor-intensive. At Vistro Prime, chef-owner Paul Virant embraces the old-school approach, wheeling a special cart to the table and sautéeing the bananas in caramelized brown sugar and rum before your eyes. Served in a bowl, topped with streusel, this dish is pure indulgence.


Craft Urban's Death by Chocolate Mousse
Craft Urban’s Death by Chocolate Mousse


Craft Urban
211 James St., Geneva; 41 S. Stolp Island Ave., Aurora

Bernie Laskowski’s restaurant goes for a city vibe, but its signature dessert makes me think of country campfires. The gooey confection begins with rich chocolate mousse and then adds dark-chocolate ganache, crumbled graham crackers, bruléed marshmallow fluff, and sea salt. It’s like s’mores in a bowl.


Uncle Julio's Chocolate Piñata
Uncle Julio’s Chocolate Piñata


Uncle Julio’s
1831 Arbiter Ct., Naperville; 2360 Fountain Square Dr., Lombard

A dessert that combines multiple treats and audience participation, the Chocolate Piñata arrives as a suspended chocolate orb, ready to be whacked with the provided instrument. After a few well-placed blows, the piñata cracks open to reveal a cornucopia of bite-size churros and chunks of fresh fruit. Eat them as is or dip them in chocolate sauce. It’s priced at $35, but there’s enough for an entire table. The only difficulty is deciding who wields the bat (it’s good etiquette to let everybody take a, um, crack). Smashing.


Parkers’ White Chocolate and Apricot Croissant Bread Pudding
Parkers’ White Chocolate and Apricot Croissant Bread Pudding


Parkers’ Restaurant & Bar
1000 31st St., Downers Grove

Try to keep your hands away from this beauty, which arrives at your table on a wood cutting board. In separate containers: a cast-iron pan holding the luscious bread pudding, a tiny pitcher of crème anglaise, and a single scoop of butter-pecan gelato. The pudding arrives piping hot, so take a minute to admire the presentation before digging in.


Photos courtesy of Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants (Piccolo Buco by Cooper’s Hawk); courtesy of Nick & Amy Ulivieri for Lucca Osteria & Bar, The Graceful Ordinary, and Scott Harris Hospitality (Fat Rosie’s); courtesy of Stolp Island Social (Aurora Borealis), Alyson Keen/Leave Her Wild Photography (Get Figgy With It), Vasu Pandey (Masalarita), and Kira Anderson (Devil in the White City); courtesy of The Capital Grille, Craft Urban, Jen Banowetz (chocolate piñata), and Karen Freeland (bread pudding)