How We Hosted a ‘Backyard BBQ’ on a Patio in Downtown Chicago

At Bottleneck Management, we are lucky enough to have several venues with spaces that are ideal for private and semi-private events. We often host birthday dinners, weddings, cocktail receptions, and play a key part in many people’s good times.

One style of event that we love, and wanted to recreate, is the classic summertime BBQ: plenty of food on the grill, friends old and new mingling around an outdoor space, and of course, a great selection of craft drinks. So, we started to envisage a ‘Midsummer Backyard BBQ‘, transplanted to one of the best outdoor spaces in town – a patio in downtown Chicago, belonging to Howells & Hood.

The Venue

Best patio in chicago Backyard BBQ Cider Dinner_3 2 HH Backyard BBQ Cider Dinner_2

The East Patio is an outdoor dining space ideal for larger parties. It enables us to host outdoor seated dinners and wedding receptions while still keeping a large part of the patio open for regular diners and guests. We wanted to use it as a more informal cocktail-style reception, with hightop tables for easy drink-perching and room to move around and chat with the chefs at the grill and other guests. We also kept one of our long communal fire-tables in play, allowing a place to sit and eat if you preferred, and also an extra source of warmth if the night were to get chilly.

The Grill

Patio in Downtown Chicago - HH Backyard BBQ Cider Dinner_the grill HH Backyard BBQ Cider Dinner_the grill 3

Next, we had to get clearance to have a huge grill out on the patio. The Tribune building and its neighbors around Pioneer Court are also host to thousands of workers, and once we had shown that we were not going to set everything on fire, we had approval and went in search of the perfect size grill to hire.

The Drink

Cider drinking | Firkin Tapping | HH Backyard BBQ Cider Dinner_4 widers reposado pear cider barrel aged cider

A classic summer drink, Cider is having something of a revolution right now in the U.S. We had already lined up July as ‘Cider Month’ at Howells & Hood, and our beverage manager worked hard to offer a constantly rotating selection of seasonal specials and rarities from cider mills large and small.

We decided to take this further by offering six ciders of varying flavor profiles and backgrounds at our BBQ, turing it into something of a ‘cider-pairing dinner’, and something that craft beer fans might also appreciate. The ciders on offer were;

Original Sin Hard Cider – dry traditional cider.
Wyder’s Hard Cider Reposado Pear – pear cider aged in tequila barrels.
Wandering Aengus Ciderworks Anthem Cherry – tart, dry cider finished with the juice of Oregon cherries.
J.K.’s Scrumpy Farmhouse Organic Hard Cider – smooth cider fermented from organic apples grown at Koan Family Orchards, MI.
Woodchuck Hard Cider Barrel Select – ultra-limited small batch of sweet, crisp apple cider with smoky, dry bourbon flavors.
Vander Mill Ciders Ginger Peach – refreshing, spicy, semi-sweet cider blended with peach and ginger juice.

The Food

Veal Brats HH Backyard BBQ Cider Dinner Lobster Rolls HH Backyard BBQ Cider Dinner
Steak HH Backyard BBQ Cider Dinner HH Backyard BBQ Cider Dinner_pairing 1

With the drink selected, Executive Chef Scott Walton and his team then went about developing six dishes that would flow well as a whole throughout the night, and also each complement one of the ciders that we would be sharing. The respective food pairings for the above ciders were;

Veal Bratwurst – Worcestershire braised onions, cider mustard.
Grilled Lobster Roll – vanilla bean yogurt, pickled pear, chervil, NE. roll.
Achiote Quail Taco – Serrano cherry jam, cabbage, radish, cilantro.
Slagel Farms Porchetta – charred corn, baked beans.
60 Day Dry-Aged Ribeye – crème fraiche-poached potatoes, radicchio.
Grilled Peach Melba – huckleberry, spiced Marcona almond, Bria’s ice cream.

The Party

HH Backyard BBQ Cider Dinner_the party 2 Patio in Downtown Chicago - Firkin Tapping HH Backyard BBQ Cider Dinner_11 2
Vandermill Firkin Tapping Cider Dinner Howells and Hood Chicago HH Backyard BBQ Cider Dinner_the party

And so, we sent out some invites, shared the news on our Facebook page, and before we knew it, we had 50 people interested in the party. Some had been to our previous beer dinner, some were hardcore cider fans, and others just wanted to try something new in a fun space. We even had some staff from other venues stop by on their day off.

Vandermill Cider decided to offer something else to mark the occasion – a live firkin tapping of one of their rare brews. The Michigan Wit Cider was brewed in the style of a Witbier, made with Belgian yeast and spiced with orange peel and coriander. The drink was another fun addition, and people helped themselves to the firkin throughout the night. Chef Scott and his team did a great job on the grill, and provided more than enough food for everyone, with second rounds of appetizers coming around during the tapping, followed by some generous helpings of the main courses.

As it happened, the Backyard BBQ was also to be the last day of Howells & Hood Pastry Chef Bria Helgersen (whose house-made ice cream graced the dessert dish). We wish you the best of luck for the future, Bria!

We’d like to give an extra special thanks to everyone who made it out to the Backyard BBQ Cider Dinner and shared a glorious night on our downtown patio, and we look forward to repeating this successful evening in the near future. Sign up for emails at for upcoming events.

by .