In a Nutshell: A welcome change of pace to the increasingly “Bro” scene on Division Street in Wicker Park. Described by the Heisler Hosptiality ownership group as “modern British pub and a beer bar at heart”, Pub Royale also features British Indian and Northern Indian fare. This is a an excellent destination when you’re craving Indian food but want a more extensive drink list and vibrant scene than either the typical pub or Indian restaurant in Chicago.
Ambiance: There is a great energy to the place, both in the decor and the lively (but still mature) patrons Pub Royale attracts. The space is pretty small and there is basically 3 sections: a beautiful wooden bar, flanked by what looks to be white peacocks and completed with plush, nailhead-detailed maroon bar stools. For the reserved seating area, there are both long, narrow communal tables and booths against the wall. The far back is a mix of a waiting area and as we came to discover, first come first serve seating for drinks or dinner. Dim lighting from beautiful lanterns set the mood and colorful masks adorn the walls for a playful touch. For a bit of modern flare, the extensive draft beer list is the centerpiece of the back wall- a projection image made to look like a reader board in a train station.
Beverages: A great beer and cider list. High alcohol drafts are generally available in small or medium sizes (4oz/8oz) while mid-range ABV brews are also available in 12 or 16oz. Overall, it’s the perfect way to sample a number of different offerings- a sort of “build-your-own-flight” set up. They have a nice range of styles from Midwest brewers with representation from the coasts as well. In addition, there some unusual offerings like French and Spanish ciders and great German heritage breweries. They have additional varieties in bottles and cans. For those seeking a cocktail, their $9 Royale Cups are a delicious bargain. There are some pretty safe offerings – i.e. the gin cup but also have more esoteric concoctions (for example, the very bitter besk). They do have wine (all $10) but it’s pretty limited – 5 or 6 glasses total.
Service: Everyone we encountered was very nice- from the hostess, to the bartender, to the server. I think the challenge is that it’s a very tight footprint, it’s packed and they do not take reservations. We arrived a little before 7pm on a Saturday night and there was already an hour wait for a table (communal or private). Our hostess did say that we could go wait in the cocktail area in the back and grab an open spot at the bar if we saw any. She took my phone number and let me know they’re on a app that shows your position in line. 2 tricky things with this scenario: the hostess did not clarify which seats were up for grabs in the back area and, at least on our cell phones, the app did not work that far back in the restaurant. After about 20 minutes, we eventually scooped up a few seats along the wall. It was likely originally designed for enjoying a drink but a few people were eating dinner on this ledge so we followed suit. It turns out, however, that the tables back there are also first come first serve. Anyway, once seated, our waiter was very friendly and helpful about both the food and drink menu. Unfortunately, with the sheer volume of people, it was both difficult to figure out what happened to our final dish (there was a very long wait for what should have been a very quickly prepared vegetable dish) and to close out the bill. Luckily, the amiable dispositions from everyone helped gloss over the small service flaws.
Food: I am by no means an Indian food connoisseur so I cannot speak to how authentic it was, either from the British Indian or Northern Indian interpretation. It was, however, very, very tasty. The Indian Hot Chicken was incredibly juicy and featured this amazing crunchy and (not too) spicy coating. It was a great size for sharing for 2-3. The Palak Peneer and lamb dumplings were also delicious and the Pub Salad was a surprising and much appreciated offering for something a little lighter to balance out all the rich dishes. The only thing I found disappointing was the Naan. It was definitely not as fluffy as an actual Indian restaurant would serve but if that’s their worst food crime, I’ll take it.
The Devil’s in the Details: From the atypical (for Chicago) bar decor to the delicious and beautifully presented Royale Cups to the very reasonably priced and downright yummy food, Pub Royale is a reason to back to Division Street if you’ve felt a little alienated with an increasingly Wrigleyville-type scene.
Photo credit: Hilary Higgins/for RedEye (bar shot); mrsfoodlady (restaurant shot)