by Melanie Jones
on Wednesday, October 2nd, 2019 at 1:14pm.
Among the vibrant streets of Old Town, atop the historic Second City building at Piper’s Alley, Utopian Tailgate perches. You may have noticed a sudden flooding on your Instagram from friends of a new gorgeous view of the Chicago skyline, framed by white Christmas lights, with old school music bumping in the background. It begs the question, how was there not a rooftop bar there sooner?
Opened for less than a month, Utopian Tailgate, taking note from the success of game-focused restaurants and bars, features a full American-style menu, full bar, and lots of games. The most used at the time I attended were the oversized Jenga set, and bags (cornhole). So, is Utopian Tailgate a hit or miss?
The bar played eclectic music, from alternative sounds like the Beastie Boys, to rap like the Yang-Yang Twins. My group arrived around 6:30 (we made reservations) and were seated promptly on a picnic bench out on the rooftop. We walked past inside seating, which come winter may be the restaurant’s only source of seating. The view was fantastic, and the sun was setting throughout our dinner. Pinks and purples of the fading Chicago summer smeared across the sky like an oil painting. The music wasn’t too loud until around 8:30, which felt like a sign that they were switching into bar mode.
The food was tasty. I had a black bean falafel (I was trying to eat healthy) which was flavorful and magically wasn’t dry (it’s an issue I notice regularly with falafel). My friends both ordered the Smash Burger and some curly fries. The curly fries were very similar to Arby’s, which is a big bonus in my book. I ordered a Bloody Mary because I wanted to try it, and my friends each ordered beers. Drinks were served quickly and my Bloody Mary was the right amount of smoky and spicy. After food we played bags by leaving a license with the front in exchange for the bags themselves. Everyone on the rooftop was friendly and understanding if an errant bag flew near them. The bags were set up away from the dining area, which was a wise choice. I can’t say the same about the Jenga sets. There were also cabana style seats which seemed a little more comfy and possibly romantic.
You do have to take an elevator up to the space, and similar to finding a speakeasy, you have to know what you’re looking for in order to get there. Following the signs seems simple enough, but there are multiple entrances to the building so I can see someone having difficulty finding the place. You get your ID checked before you get on the elevator, which makes waiting for the elevator less noticeable since you are engaged with the bouncer. The food was great, but the service was…interesting. The woman that served us was nice but obviously frazzled. Everything time we asked for something she said yes but made sure to let us know how difficult that would be for her to do, and then paused, as if we should say never mind instead of getting the item we wanted. For instance, my friend asked for ranch sauce with her fries. The lady nicely explained to her that it would take a little time because she would have to go to the kitchen on the second floor to get it, so she could do it but it wouldn’t be quick. My friend likes ranch with her fries, why is this a big ask? So, sure enough, the ranch sauce came out about twenty minutes after the fries and guess what? They charged her 25 cents for it, even after they apologized for how long it took for the sauce to come out. This means they were aware that it took longer than it should and still charged my friend. In my opinion, that’s not the best way to emphasize hospitality.
The second strange thing was that my Bloody Mary was served in a small whiskey glass, which is unusual for a Bloody Mary. Sometimes places open before they’ve figured out all of their plating and dining ware, so it didn’t bother me at first. What bothered me was my bill. For a falafel wrap and fries, it was $15. For my tiny Bloody Mary it was $13. My friends’ beers were $7. Perhaps I was most struck by what appears as inconsistent pricing. Maybe they used vodka infused with water from the fountain of youth and that’s why it was more expensive than I anticipated. In that case, what a deal!
Next: The oversized Jenga is fun to play, but it is loud as heck and when you’re engaged in a great conversation with your friends, the sudden and deafening roar of wooden blocks toppling over and someone screaming, “Oh my god I suck!” can be quite startling, and even heart stopping. There were two or three Jenga games set up in our vicinity, and although I won’t say it ruined the dinner, it’s not making it to the highlight reel either.
The last miss was alluding to earlier, which was the music. I don’t understand why it’s necessary to blast music at a place where people are eating. I’d love to know how my friend likes her burger, and she shouldn’t have to scream to tell me about it. I get that they were transitioning into bar-mode but it kind of felt like they were just blowing off the patrons who were already there. Is it a ridiculous idea for bars to state the time they become more bar than restaurant? Put it on their menu or website? Am I alone in this? Bueller?
This place had a fun atmosphere, a great view, food was tasty and I plan on going back. Once staff figures itself out and they learn how to streamline getting items from the kitchen in a timely manner and in the right order, I don’t anticipate the problems we had continuing. Re: loud noises and the price of Bloody Maries, I think management needs to consider both of those notes.