Best cocktail bars in Chicago

From mixed drinks to awesome summer drinks, you'll find the best concotions at these cocktail bars and lounges in Chicago.

1/11
Photograph: Damien Thompson

Best cocktail bars in Chicago for mixed drinks and more: The Aviary

2/11
Photograph: Martha Williams

Best cocktail bars in Chicago for mixed drinks and more: Barrelhouse Flat

3/11
Photograph: Nick Murway

Best cocktail bars in Chicago for mixed drinks and more: Bernard's Bar

4/11
Photograph: Oriana Koren

Best cocktail bars in Chicago for mixed drinks and more: Billy Sunday

5/11
Photograph: Nick Murway

Best cocktail bars in Chicago for mixed drinks and more: The Drawing Room

6/11

Best cocktail bars in Chicago for mixed drinks and more: Bar at the Peninsula

7/11
Photograph: Nick Murway

Best cocktail bars in Chicago for mixed drinks and more: Sable

8/11
Photograph: Martha Williams

Best cocktail bars in Chicago for mixed drinks and more: Scofflaw

9/11
Photograph: Martha Williams

Best cocktail bars in Chicago for mixed drinks and more: Violet Hour

10/11
Photograph: Nick Murway

Best cocktail bars in Chicago for mixed drinks and more: Weegee's Lounge

11/11
Photograph: Erica Gannett

Best cocktail bars in Chicago for mixed drinks and more: The Whistler

Cocktails have come a long way from the classic martini. Sure, we love some gin, vermouth and bitters served in a martini glass, but in the past several years Chicago bartenders have been elevating mixed drinks to an art form. West Loop cocktail lounge The Aviary has been leading the pack, using unexpected ingredients and inventive presentations. These Chicago cocktail bars are offering some of the most exciting mixed drinks (think summer drinks, cocktails made with unusual ice cubes and more) in the country. We wouldn't blame you if you wanted to visit every bar on the list—just don't do it all in one night.

RECOMMENDED: Full list of the best bars in Chicago

The Aviary

Critics' pick

The question Grant Achatz's cocktail lounge poses—intentionally or not—is: When a cocktail is an intellectual exercise, how much does it matter how it tastes? Some of these drinks are exhilarating for their presentation (the Rooibos, a hot cocktail served in a vacuum-pot coffee brewer), and some, like the Buttered Popcorn, are remarkable for their flavor (yes, it really does taste like popcorn). And sure, some are like the Blueberry, a pitcher of macerated spirits that changes the longer it sits, and are remarkable in every way. But whatever strengths the individual cocktails here exhibit, the outcome after drinking them is always them same: You'll never think of a cocktail the same way again.

Read more
West Loop

The Bar at Peninsula Hotel

Escort a date to the Peninsula’s dark, clubby cocktail bar, and you won’t go home alone. All the bases have been covered—a glowing fireplace and high-backed bar stools or cozy conversation nooks with couches. Sip well-crafted cocktails, bubbly by the glass or whiskeys from obscure distillers.

Read more

The Barrelhouse Flat

Critics' pick

You come to the Barrelhouse Flat for cocktails—it’s one of the finest drinking establishments in the city, thanks to head bartender Stephen Cole’s list of 70 classics that range from familiar (whiskey sour) to arcane (Jimmie Roosevelt, anyone?). But you stay at the Barrelhouse Flat for the food, namely the headcheese poutine and blue-cheese-and-bacon popcorn.

Read more
North Side

Bernard's Bar

Looking to go luxe? The Waldorf Astoria’s entryway alone is impressive. But sneak up the stairs to this covert cocktail lounge and you’ll feel outright special. Chairs are plush, lights are dim and—best of all—cocktails are stellar. Arsenic & Old Lace employs fresh tarragon to brighten up the anise in the pastis and, somehow, the pine in the gin, while yellow Chartreuse and sherry combine to mellow the bite of rye in the Witch & the Warlock. Oysters and crudo make their way over from the raw bar at the upstairs restaurant, Balsan. Our advice? Start there, then head up to Balsan’s bar for a proper burger and beer to wrap the night.

Read more
Gold Coast

Billy Sunday

Critics' pick

Who would have guessed longtime Trotter's chef Matthias Merges would find his calling checking IDs at the door of a Logan Square bar? Granted, his is not just any bar: Here, barkeep Alex Bachman combines his penchant for unusual ingredients (a syrup made from maidenhair ferns, say) with an uncanny sense of balance, turning out creations that both pay homage to and defy tradition—often simultaneously. Though Billy Sunday is squarely a bar, the food is a worthy companion to the drinks: Don't miss the banana pudding.

Read more

The Drawing Room

Critics' pick

Chef Rodney Stanton is keeping patrons well fed with seasonal dishes like a springy pasta tossed with morels, truffle poached egg and chèvre or wintery braised short ribs with citrus zest. Mixologist Cristi DeLucca adjusts her cocktail menu accordingly, ensuring that everything on your table is as au courant as the Gold Coast regulars.

Read more
Gold Coast

Sable Kitchen & Bar

Critics' pick

The menu at this slick hotel spot is derivative of the gastropubby restaurants of the past decade: It’s got “flatbreads,” and various incarnations of the slider, and the perennially popular bacon-wrapped date. But it’s also got bartender Mike Ryan’s fantastic cocktails (even a drink called War of the Roses is balanced and complex). As mere companions to the cocktails, those sliders are better than fine; ditto for those pizzas. So think of Sable as a Bar & Kitchen and not the other way around.

Read more
River North

Scofflaw

Critics' pick

Veterans of the Whistler and Boiler Room joined together to open this bar. One of the two rooms here looks a lot like the Violet Hour, which makes sense since cocktails (specifically gin cocktails) are a focus of the place. The other room is less loungey and truer to what Scofflaw is, which is a top-notch, friendly neighborhood joint.

Read more
Logan Square

Three Dots and a Dash

Critics' pick

You won’t realize how much you were missing perfectly made tiki drinks in your life until you have one here. Since Trader Vic’s closed in 2011, there hasn’t been a dedicated tiki bar in the city, and we’ve needed one. The drinks are beautifully garnished, with orchids, marigolds and pansies peeking out of skull, coconut and tiki head glasses. And they’re potent.

Read more
River North

The Violet Hour

Critics' pick

This hip cocktail lounge is exactly what you’d expect from a bar named after a line of T.S. Eliot poetry: pristine (the carefully constructed cocktails are excellent), pretentious (you won’t find a sign on the door—just look for the long lines) and, ultimately, completely and unarguably gorgeous.

Read more
Wicker Park

Comments

0 comments