For dinner, Meritage Cafe and Wine Bar (2118 North Damen Avenue, 773-235-6434) has an inviting atmosphere and an excellent "new American" menu (try the huckleberry-and-goat-cheese tart). Dine alfresco, weather permitting. Afterward, for a decadent interlude, Hot Chocolate (1747 North Damen Avenue, 773-489-1747) offers sensational chocolate creations and desserts.

For some after-dinner fun, Lucky Strike Lanes (322 East Illinois Street, 312-245-8331) isn't your granddaddy's bowling alley. It has the old-timey kitsch of a classic alley along with modern touches like flat-screen TVs, pool tables, a tapas menu that includes ancho-chile-and-citrus chicken, and a wine bar with cozy leather couches and fireplaces.


Metropolis Coffee (1039 West Granville Avenue, 773-764-0400, www.metropolis pours what many consider to be the best cup o' joe in town. Father-and-son owners Jeff and Tony Dreyfuss import their beans - try the Redline blend for a kick in the pants. In the evening hours, help yourself to a decaf and enjoy music and art.

Hop the Brown Line to Lincoln Square, where Laurie's Planet of Sound (4639 North Lincoln Avenue, 773-271-3569) is the place to stock up on indie CDs. The friendly staff at Reckless Records (3161 North Broadway, 773-404-5080) will also help you find just the right tunes.

Less than two hours outside of town, Lake Geneva ( will have you in a completely different state - and state of mind. Hike around the lake (a strenuous 20.6-mile trek) or rent a bike at Pedal & Cup (five minutes north of the lake at Springfield's Historic Depot, 1722 Highway 120 North, Springfield, Wisconsin; 262-249-1111).

During the summer, make plans to attend the Chicago Park Outdoor Film Festival at Butter Field in Grant Park (100 South Lake Shore Drive, 312-744-3315), held Tuesday nights. Thousands turn out to lie under the stars and watch great flicks.