Happier hour

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No city celebrates the return of summer like Chicago, and nothing makes a cocktail taste more seasonal than sipping it with a snack on the terrace. Double your happy hour pleasure and pair outdoor drinks with bite-sized nibbles at these airy spots. Those work worries will roll away faster than you can say, "half-day Fridays."

Shanghai Terrace
When the nine-to-five grind winds down, shrug off that underling persona and unleash your inner sophisticate with a seat on the city's most elegant garden patio, four stories above Michigan Avenue in the Peninsula Hotel. Indulge your newfound flair for high society with the Peninsula Martini (Absolut Mandarin, champagne and Chambord, garnished with a strawberry; $11). Feeling the altitude? Order off the tableside dim sum menu, and fill up on yummy treats like shrimp spring rolls and pork dumplings ($8 for three).

Kamehachi Cafe
Say sayonara to stress. The walled-in courtyard-brimming with flowers, bamboo and fountains-at this Old Town sushi standby effectively blocks out the city beyond. If the setting's not enough of a lift, improve your karma with a Lemonberry Twist (Absolut Raspberi, Chambord and lemonade; $9). Not feeling raw fish? June's special is the Quinn-tessential maki, created by longtime regular Dr. John Quinn. It's a mix of cooked smoked salmon, spicy mayo, scallions, crunchy tempura, eel sauce and avocado, with rice on the outside and red tobiko on top ($12).

La Vita
They've got a brand new blender, and they're not afraid to use it. Undefeated former world-ranked boxer Michael Garcia's Little Italy hot spot has a rooftop terrace with umbrella tables, flowers and piped-in Italian music-and top-notch access to blues-busting breezes. Pony up $9, and you'll get a Pina Colada, Blue Hawaiian or a design-your-own knockout concoction. What workday woes could stand up to those cold, frothy cocktails? To go with, try the fried or grilled calamari; eggplant stuffed with sundried tomatoes, spinach and mascarpone; or the scallops grilled with artichoke hearts and shrimp ($9 each).

Citizen Bar
More of an exhibitionist? Lose that business-day blazer and show off your early-season George Hamil-tan on the 2,000 square foot see-and-be-seen sidewalk patio or the equally spacious rooftop terrace at this just-opened River North spot. For a sipper, try the refreshing Garofoli Verdicchio Italian white wine ($9) with summery notes of fresh pear and herbs. Like your snacks like you like your tans (you know, deep-fried)? Munch on Italian-style tapas served with marinara sauce, including crispy spaghetti and meatballs (veal and pork wrapped in angel hair and fried) and the MC3, a three-cheese combo shaped like a cube and fried like a cheese stick ($1.50 each).

Rockit Bar and Grill
Nothing spells postwork relief like ice cream-except liquor. Good thing Rockit's combined the spirit of the two. We heart the Bomb Pop, a red-white-and-blue layered drink made from raspberry and lemon vodkas, blue Curacao, lemonade and grenadine, garnished with a maraschino cherry and a Popsicle stick ($10). Sip it at a sidewalk table or in the second-floor lounge, where two walls of open windows let in the summer breeze. Pair the sweet drink with an ultralight crab cake (jumbo lump crab meat, orange-hazelnut dressing, frisee and toasted hazelnuts; $12) or keep the dessert theme going with a Berry Martini (blueberries, raspberries and strawberries in Chambord-infused whipped cream; $8).

Ole Ole
No personal days left for a long weekend in Cabo? No worries. It's all about the atmosphere at this colorful Andersonville restaurant and bar, which boasts pan-Latin influences. While there's no patio per se, glass doors open on to Clark Street for top-notch people-watching. For a mere $6, you can score a mojito or sangria, or up the ante to $8 for a Caipirhinia (Cachaca, Brazilian rum, lime and sugar). Still got office anxiety? Settle empty tummies with tasty Nuevo Latino eats like beef, ham or spinach empanadas ($5 for two).

[ Julia Borcherts is a metromix special contributor. ]
metromix@tribune.comOriginally published June 14, 2006.

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