Bars | Wicker Park/Bucktown Guide 2013

[Old-school faves]

Beachwood Inn No hipsters or yuppies here—it’s just regular neighborhood folks in this one-room watering hole taking turns on the pool table or playing games like Scrabble and Connect Four. The scatterbrained decor (old movie posters, sports crap, beer memorabilia) is as random as the jukebox, which offers pre-’90s tunes from the Pretenders to Michael Jackson. 1415 N Wood St (773-486-9806). Mon–Thu 5pm–2am; Fri 4pm–2am; Sat 3pm–3am; Sun 3pm–2am. Average cocktail: $5.

The Charleston Once your quintessential—i.e. run of the mill—dive bar, the Charleston was polished up not too long ago to include a proper cocktail menu, regular DJ nights and just the right amount of ambience. Perfect for dates or intimate gatherings, the bar boasts Tuesday night steampunk soirees and weekend selectors injecting ample doses of dusty rock, funk and soul, and an indie dance cut or two. 2076 N Hoyne Ave (773-489-4757). Sun–Fri 6pm–2am; Sat 6pm–3am.

Danny’s Tavern This ultrahip neighborhood row-house bar has roots in the grunge era, but these days the DJ programming is eclectic. Sheer Magic, the monthly soul party (first Wednesdays), is often sweat-soaked and body-to-body packed, but there are also country nights, Smiths listening parties, and even a smattering of live jazz, classical and singer-songwriter events. 1951 W Dickens Ave (773-489-6457). Sun–Fri 7pm–2am; Sat 7pm–3am.

Double Door Located in the heart of the nightlife action in Wicker Park, the Double Door is essentially the little brother to the Metro, which books its acts. Many older local bands play here, leaning toward the tattooed set, alongside turns from touring groups. With a pool room downstairs and a small cocktail balcony, the space offers respite from a noisome opening act or a dark corner to smash faces. 1572 N Milwaukee Ave (773-489-3160). Mon 12–4:30pm; Tue–Fri 12pm–2am; Sat 12pm–3am.

Estelle’s Not feeling Subterranean’s music for the night? Can’t take the hipper-than-thou crowd at Rainbo? Prefer a place less clubby than Debonair? Well, then head to this low-key sanctuary in the Milwaukee-North-Damen intersection. No one’s trying to out-cool anyone here (though late at night, they’re definitely trying to pick each other up), so feel free to strike up a conversation with a stranger. 2013 W North Ave (773-782-0450). Sun–Fri 7pm–4am; Sat 7pm–5am. Average cocktail: $5.

The Flat Iron When this place was the Note, the focus was on the bands on stage. Now, of course, those bands are gone, and the focus is on nothing but the drinks in the glasses—and the fact that you can get them until 4am. The dark bar is roomy and a little divey, and it’s essentially as low-key and basic as a bar can get. And that’s exactly what this rapidly yuppifying neighborhood needs. 1565 N Milwaukee Ave (773-365-9000). Sun–Fri 4pm–4am; Sat 4pm–5am. Average beer: $4.

The Map Room You couldn’t fit another beer on the killer list or another Bucktown local in this cozy tavern on occasional Tuesdays when the bar unveils new or limited releases of specialty beers. If you’re not much of a drinker but like the vibe, stop by in the a.m. when the Map Room functions as a coffeehouse. 1949 N Hoyne Ave (773-252-7636). Mon–Fri 6:30am–2am; Sat 7:30am–3am; Sun 11am–2am. Average beer: $5.

Phyllis’ Musical Inn One of Wicker Park’s first spots for live music refuses to go the way of cover bands, instead booking local acts that play original rock. They’re not always great, but the garden patio is. A scrappy mix of chairs and tables, a basketball hoop and groups of friends shooting the shit over cheap drinks makes for a classic summer night. 1800 W Division St (773-486-9862). Mon–Fri 4pm–2am; Sat 3pm–2am; Sun 2pm–2am. Average beer: $3.50.

Rainbo Club The bittersweet reality of great little dives is that they often lose charm when overrun by masses of clingers-on. Somehow, this Ukrainian Village spot has managed to remain an underground favorite. The local artists and musicians who frequent it hold on to terra firma with cheap drink in hand, awaiting a turn in the photo booth while nodding to everything from Aesop Rock to Black Sabbath. 1150 N Damen Ave (773-489-5999). Sun–Fri 4pm–2am; Sat 4pm–3am. Average cocktail: $3.75.

Subterranean Set right in the heart of Wicker Park, this upstairs club (pity the drummers lugging gear up the stairs) rarely disappoints sound-wise, despite a rather creepy door staff. There’s a lofty balcony high above the stage if you don’t want to rub shoulders with the crowd, packed in to see typically heavy rock and hip-hop. 2011 W North Ave (773-278-6600). Sun–Thu 7pm–2am; Fri–Sat 7pm–3am.

Zakopane If you’re lucky, you’ll stumble in on a night when the Anna Kournikova look-alike bartender is working, pouring vodka drinks with a heavy hand. But any night will do at this wood-paneled, Polish-owned watering hole. The old drunks are quick to challenge you at pool, and the young Poles are obsessed with the jukebox that spits out Polish versions of early-’90s American chart toppers. 1734 W Division St (773-486-1559). Mon–Fri 7am–2am; Sat 7pm–3am; Sun 11am–2am. Average cocktail: $4.

[Modern classics]

Blue Line Lounge and Grill The theme at this cozy Wicker Park diner is old-school railroad dining car, which is fitting considering it’s underneath the Damen stop on the Blue Line. The menu has plenty of choices for eats (nachos, salads, burgers) and even more for drinks (pear, cucumber, even snickerdoodle martinis are represented). Drink up: The CTA’s only a few steps away. 1548 N Damen Ave (773-395-3700). Mon–Thu 5pm–2am; Fri 11am–2am; Sat 9am–3am; Sun 9am–2am. Average cocktail: $6.

Debonair Social Club One of Wicker Park’s hottest spots—especially for you kiddies, as it’s the only place on the stretch catering to an 18+ crowd. The once dominant Monday night dance party, Rehab, has recently called it a day. Wednesdays, the ladies of the night take over for rock-fueled burlesque nights. Weekends it keeps things open-ended; DJs play across the board and always on point. 1575 N Milwaukee Ave (773-227-7990). Mon–Fri 10pm–2am; Sat 9pm–3am.

Easy Bar The boys behind Estelle’s and Alive One decked out this dark-red room with low-key, classy decor and a jukebox that floats easily between Otis Redding and Arcade Fire, creating an aura that only the most cynical hipsters wouldn’t dig. 1944 W Division St (773-227-4644). Sun–Fri 5pm–2am; Sat 5pm–3am. Average cocktail: $4.50.

Empire Liquors The crowd has changed at Empire over the course of its lifetime. As the scenesters decided too many people were crowding the spot, they left for more off-the-beaten-path hangs. Through it all though, the swank nightspot has stayed the course and kept the hip-hop-focused dance party going. The faces may be more Lincoln than Wicker Park, but the place is still a damn good time. 1566 N Milwaukee Ave (773-278-1600). Wed–Fri, Sun 9–2pm; Sat 9–3am.

Emporium Arcade Bar What do you get when you combine 24 craft beers on tap with 37 1980s and ’90s arcade games, from NBA Jam to Super Mario Bros. to Mortal Kombat? A packed room crammed with date nights, big groups and sheepish men in their early thirties who look as if they’ve never been in a bar before. 1366 N Milwaukee Ave (773-697-7922). Mon–Thu 5pm–2am; Fri 3pm–2am; Sat noon–3am; Sun noon–2am. Average beer: $5.

Evil Olive This spot may have changed names more than any other venue in the ’hood, but it’s become an unlikely young hipster hangout thanks to long-standing weekend dance parties hosted by local jocks Marco Morales, Johnny Walker, and the Porn and Chicken posse. It’s making serious inroads on our weekdays as well thanks to the over-the-top exploits of Monday throwdown Porn and Chicken and Thursday’s Let’s Get Weird. 1551 W Division St (773-235-9100). Mon 10:30pm–4:30am; Fri 10:30pm–4am; Sat 10:30pm–5am.

Fatpour Tap Works This frat house disguised as a sports bar has 50 beer kegs set up in a two-story glass-enclosed cooler in the center of the space, serves a bucket-sized vodka-and-Sprite “fish bowl” and is filled to capacity with the weekend warriors who stumble around Wicker Park on Friday and Saturday nights thinking they’re tailgating at UW–Madison. 2005 W Division St (773-698-8940). Mon–Thu 5pm–2am; Fri 11am–2am; Sat 11am–3am; Sun 11am–2am. Average beer: $6.

Lemmings Don’t take the name literally: There’s a nice crowd here, but the joint isn’t packed with followers, so you can usually find a seat to soak up the comforting vibe. We want to keep this beloved place low-key, and were almost hesitant to tell you about it, but we’re running out of competition on Ms. Pac-Man and the pool table. 1850 N Damen Ave (773-862-1688). Mon–Fri 4pm–2am; Sat noon–3am; Sun noon–2am. Average beer: $4.

Lincoln Tavern Step into this Bucktown corner tap (the “tavern” half of the bar/restaurant combo, that is) and you’ll feel like you’ve stumbled upon a small-town rural watering hole: The service is patient, the chatter is minimal and the TVs are tuned to local news. Pace your evening accordingly, but don’t be too late—the bar tends to shut down early on slow evenings. 1858 W Wabansia Ave (773-342-7778). Hours vary. Average beer: $4.

The Monarch Yes, this place looks like your average beer-slinging, seen-better-days neighborhood tap. But between the food (dill-pickle wings, a tremendous diner-style burger, even a butter-lettuce salad) from chef Andrew Brochu (formerly of Graham Elliot) and the almost comically ambitious cocktails (such as the Place de la Concorde, with green Chartreuse), it doesn’t for a second act like one. 1745 W North Ave (773-252-6053). Mon–Sat 5pm–2am; Sun 10:30am–10pm. Average cocktail: $11.

Rodan Compact but handsomely designed in modern blues and wood, Rodan fulfills the fantasy of the hipster who’s moved on from squalid nights sucking PBRs in no-name dives. DJs spin wildly eclectic sets to their own tastes—anything from Afrobeat and soul to space rock and psych—and the big video screen and weekly live avant-jazz make it a multimedia mecca. 1530 N Milwaukee Ave (773-276-7036). Sun–Fri 6pm–2am; Sat 6pm–3am.

The Violet Hour 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. 1520 N Damen Ave (773-252-1500). Sun–Fri 6pm–2am; Sat 6pm–3am. Average cocktail: $12.

Wicker Park Tavern Most of the weekend warriors who stumble into this sports bar—situated in the heart of the Six Corners intersection—couldn’t tell you what its name is. They’re more focused on the important stuff: getting drinks in their hands and watching the games on the plasma screens. 1958 W North Ave (773-278-5138). Sun–Fri 11am–4am; Sat 11am–5am. Average beer: $4.