We used to eat regularly at downtown Madison's Great Dane Pub. After a few dinners during which the space was so cacophonously loud that we emerged with something vaguely akin to shellshock, we stopped going. (There was also the garden incident, but that's another story.) During a couple of recent trips to the Great Dane's new Hilldale location, we encountered even more confusion-- once eating hurriedly as a happy-hour crowd repeatedly sloshed up against the outer edge of our booth's table. An ordeal rather than a hospitable dining experience.
If we can't stomach such confusion, why do we love Chicago's Lou Mitchell's? The place embodies hustle and bustle. Both times I've been to this downtown institution, it's been packed with a stream of hungry folks lined up out the door.
Parties are either jammed into tiny booths or seated at a continuous series of two person tables. In the below pic of Kenny, you can see the arm of an adjacent diner on the right (there's another on the left who fell just outside the frame, despite my best efforts).
The wait staff squeezes among these masses of bodies and furniture with amazing stamina and aplomb. Unlike the personality-deprived & perennially green servers of Madison, Lou Mitchell's waitresses are efficient, skilled, and delightfully sassy. And the place offers a constant parade of treats. While waiting for a table, everyone is offered complimentary donut holes (made on site and without trans fats). While the LADIES wait, they get a complimentary box of Milk Duds. Upon ordering, you get a little bowl with a stewed prune and a slice of orange. You can see the remains of Kenny's on the table. The omelets are served with breakfast potatoes, all in skillets. And it's all flat-out terrific. After the meal, everyone gets a little tiny cup (just a little shot) of ice cream. Last Sunday, the place was so loud, I could hardly hear our waitress-- who was no frail flower-- but the atmosphere at Lou Mitchell's was so convivial, so refined in its own way, that I left fatter and happier than ever.