If you've driven through the sprawling retail complex that is The Arboretum of South Barrington, you passed by a sleek, modern lounge and probably didn't realize it.
Salt Sports Bar is the cushy lounge inside the newly renovated iPic Theaters. The movie theaters themselves boast leather recliners and blankets and free popcorn in the premium-plus tier and wide leather seats and between-seat tables for food and drinks in rows closer to the screen. There's not a bad seat in the place, and that goes for the lobby as well.
Salt Sports Bar1000 W. Higgins Road, South Barrington, (224) 293-1001, thesaltclub.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily
Motif: Sure, the word "sport" is in the name, but frankly, I'm not buying it. Flat-screened hi-def TVs have been strategically placed so you can catch the Cubs score before heading into a movie, but this sleek space in cool and steely tones screams urban lounge to me. The rooms are flanked by fireplaces to warm you up on chilly evenings.
Crowd: While given time Salt Sports Bar may grow into a destination all its own (you do not need to buy a movie ticket to enter), right now it's still a watering hole for folks headed to a movie.
On a recent evening I spied a bachelorette party (I don't think they were going to see the latest Harry Potter flick), thirtysomething couples and preteen boys trying their hand at pool while their moms sipped martinis.
Service: The waitresses and bartenders are well-versed in the expansive food and drink menu and can help steer you toward cocktails and nibbles of your liking.
Liquid consumption: The name of the place comes from the unique salt rims on the signature cocktails ($7 to $13), of which there are many. Celebrity mixologist Adam Seger designed the lounge's newly unveiled Chicago cocktails and they're worth a try, especially the Lemon Drop, made with homemade three citrus-infused vodka and the Hibiscus Sangria mixed with sauvignon blanc and hibiscus-infused rum.
If wine's on your list, there's a pour-your-own kiosk with 16 styles. I suggest a flight of 2-ounce pours, and then you can select a larger glass to take into the movie. Oh, and there's beer; 16 domestic, imported and craft beers on tap and a dozen or so others available by the bottle.
Food: Yes, there's popcorn and Raisinets, but there's so much more -- and I don't mean corn dogs and hot pretzels. Chinois Chicken Salad Rolls (chicken and Asian slaw wrapped in rice papers) and the Angus Burger Trio ($10 and $13 respectively) are personal favorites from chef Ryan Repplinger's menu. Pair the burgers with truffle fries or crispy sweet potato fries for a four-star combo. Also noteworthy are the Chicken Artichoke Flatbread, Fajita Quesadilla and the made-to-order cannolis.
And here's the best part: If you don't finish before showtime, you can take the food in with you.
(If you book the premium-plus seats, you can order from a limited, more eating-in-the-dark-friendly menu while the previews roll.)
Parking: Plenty of spots out front.
Overall: Dinner, drinks and a movie all in one location; I give that two thumbs-up.