Turning Up the Heat Fireplaces Add Cozy Touch to Local Restaurants, Bars

By Zeldes, Leah A. | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), January 20, 2006 | Go to article overview

Turning Up the Heat Fireplaces Add Cozy Touch to Local Restaurants, Bars


Zeldes, Leah A., Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Leah A. Zeldes Daily Herald Correspondent

Oh, the weather outside is frightful,

But the fire is so delightful ...

The allure of a fire on a winter's night was nothing new when Vaughn Monroe first recorded Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne's hit back in 1945, and it endures as one of the pleasures of winter.

"People love them," says Fred Hoffmann, president of Ala Carte Entertainment, which has made fireplaces a signature of its 30-plus Chicago-area bars and restaurants.

"It goes back to primitive times when the sole comfort man had was fire."

The fireplace tradition at Ala Carte, Hoffmann says, dates back to the company's first bar, which opened in 1970. Today's places range from the boisterous Alumni Club in Schaumburg, where an impressive open fire pit on the second floor, its flue climbing to the high wooden ceiling, warms private parties and busy weekend crowds dropping in for burgers, beer and bar fare, to the elegant Magnum's Prime Steakhouse in Lombard with five fireplaces.

Other fireplaces range from a small glassed-in unit surmounted by a snarling boar's head in the bar at Dick's River Road House in Mount Prospect to a big two-sided fireplace under a massive Aztec sun in the exterior wall at Carmelita's Mesquite Grill in Bartlett.

Fabulous fires

Late January has traditionally been the Chicago area's coldest period; an all-time low - minus 27 degrees - hit Jan. 20, 1985. While we're unlikely to have weather that severe this year, it's still a comfort to cozy up next to a fire on a chilly evening.

Here's our guide to local eating and drinking spots where brightly burning fires can make it worth venturing out into the cold.

Our look in the suburban fireplace scene determined that you don't need to spend big bucks to sit by the fire. We like that we found them at bars and coffeehouses and even a fast-food restaurant.

But most of all we loved the lavish fireplaces that just seem to invite you to sit and gaze.

Not everywhere will let you reserve a place by the fire, but when we're planning on dinner, we love those that do.

Steakhouse sizzlers

The three-sided glass fireplace in the front room at Don Roth's Blackhawk, a classic American restaurant in Wheeling, resembles an aquarium, but in another dining room you can have your steak and spinning-bowl salad by a traditional fireplace with a marble hearth and a wood mantel.

The warmth continues outdoors, where a metal fire pit, taken from the original Blackhawk in Chicago, hangs suspended from wood beams.

Manager James Polanek says that when the weather's not too inclement diners sometimes take after-dinner drinks out there, even in winter.

"It's a very, very warm fireplace," he says.

Befitting a steakhouse, the fireplace at St. Charles Place, known for its steak au poivre, looks like you could roast an ox in it. Made of rustic brick, it must be 5 feet wide and 7 feet high with 3-foot iron andirons.

The Deer Park branch of Stoney River Legendary Steaks, meanwhile, has a two-sided stone fireplace.

Waiting for your table on the bar side, you can sit on sofas or at a narrow high-top while sampling one of 40 wines by the glass.

Weber Grill's suburban restaurants all have nice gas fireplaces, with traditional fieldstone in Wheeling, rustic rock in Lombard, and contemporary marble and mahogany in Schaumburg.

The real fire's in the kitchen, though, where chefs cook over blazing charcoal in huge Weber kettles. In Lombard, you can watch the grills from the bar, and the Schaumburg location offers kitchen-side stools for viewing the action.

Home fires

We found no local restaurant burning real wood in its fireplace, but at Adelle's, an American bistro in Wheaton, they make no pretense about their gas fire.

"Instead of the fake logs, we have these balls," says proprietor Debbie Williams. …

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