Taking the winter out of wonderland

Global warming just doesn’t seem to be working. It’s January, and just like every other January in Chicago, sickly, blackened chunks of snow are heaped chest-high on the sides of the streets, a wicked trap to keep us from moving two feet in either direction. The bitter wind could still chafe the hide off of a large buffalo. And this year also has brought natural gas prices so high that anyone paying for his or her own heat has probably lost at least one body part to frostbite.

By now, those who have made it through past Chicago winters are probably familiar with the advantages of voluntary hibernation. But don’t let the snow deter your social life for the next two months.

For all the stoics daring enough to venture forth into the great wintry abyss, point your cold little toes in the direction of these warm, cozy haunts. And then brag to all of your friends about what a great time you had while they stayed home in bed, sipping tea and watching bad reruns in their ugly plaid pajamas.

The Beatles Brunch at the Local Grind

1585 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Sundays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

$9.75 per person

(773) 489-3490

While John Lennon coos in the background about love and pain, you can experience those same two emotions as you get a load of this sumptuous brunch buffet and then stuff yourself until your stomach ruptures.

The Beatles themselves would have ogled the endless stretch of tiny bagels, miniature muffins, pies and cakes, mushroom-filled pastries, fluffy pancakes, fresh fruit, fancy green beans, roasted red peppers and the requisite omelette station.

The Local Grind is so just-like-home with its couches-only seating area and its night sky ceiling, you’ll forget it’s 10 degrees outside in no time.

The experience can be summed up as follows: At the buffet table, as “Happiness is a Warm Gun” played in the background, a woman and a man bumped hands while reaching for a scoop of golden home fries.

“I’m sorry!” the woman gasped. “It’s just all so exciting!”

“I know!” the man said, staring lovingly at some nearby poached eggs. “It’s like a dream!”

Villa Kula

4518 N. Lincoln Ave.

Teas $3 to $4 a mug, appetizers about $8, entrees about $15

(773) 728-3114

Longing for the springtime beauty of a cobblestone courtyard and blooming buds? These things actually do exist, without the help of narcotics, amid the Chicago snowdrifts.

At Villa Kula, a tiny tea room in Lincoln Square, the adventuresome can take their tea outside to a heated, couch-lined greenhouse garden and gaze at amaryllis.

Or stay inside, as its wood-burning stove, stained-glass windows, mosaic-tiled panels, piano and warm lighting make Villa Kula a sure stop on anyone’s quest for solace during winter’s worst.

The Big Mac crowd may not appreciate Villa Kula’s menu and prices as much as food connoisseurs will, but fast-food lovers and gastronomes alike can at the very least savor the comfortable tea and atmosphere.

Small, hand-made books describe each exquisite tea in detail, from Egyptian chamomile to jasmine to Indian chai. The rich variety of teas complement the menu which includes sweet potato ravioli with chestnut and sage cream sauce, and a crab, avocado and mango napoleon stacked between crispy wontons. Try whipping that one up at home!

Simon’s Tavern

5210 N. Clark St.

(773) 878-0894

Meatmarket bars just aren’t much fun in the winter. Skimpy tank tops give way to fuzzy sweaters, designer shoes duly bow to big, ugly snow boots, winter appetites sneak the pounds onto everyone’s waistline, and surging hormones relax a bit.

Simon’s is a perfect alternative, just the sort of no-frills neighborhood joint that warms the soul with a quirky crowd and even quirkier decor.

Nothing at Simon’s matches, but the blue light bulbs, dark wilderness scenes on the wall, brightly colored diner chairs, mosaic garden tables, and red and green Christmas lights combine to create a just-off-the-mark feeling that makes you chuckle and relax. Meet friends here early enough to get a table, and spend hours discussing how dorky you were in the ’80s.

If you’re into music, delight in Simon’s eclectic jukebox, which features everything from the Magnetic Fields to Moby to Van Morrison.

And remember, to beat the winter freeze, liquor and a crowd work better than the crappy central heat in your apartment ever could. nyou

SMedill senior Monica Khemsurov is an nyou writer.She can be reached at [email protected].