Equal parts neighborhood joint and refined cocktail bar, Brad Bolt’s good-humored watering hole is just what Wicker Park needed.
This snug, punk-tinged cocktail bar fills a void in River North and slings lip-smacking drinking food, to boot.
Enterprising barchitects Wade McElroy and Jeff Donahue (Sportsman’s Club, Estereo) took another shot at reviving the beloved Orbit Room space in Avondale—this time with much success.
I can’t stop playing “Golden Teardrops,” the haunting 1953 single by Chicago doo-wop group the Flamingos.
The casual sibling sports bar to Scofflaw raises the—ahem—bar for the category with easy-drinking cocktails and craft brews to please serious drinkers.
Pilsen has collected its fair share of breweries over the last five years, with each newcomer offering a wildly different vibe. The folks behind Lo Rez Brewing have managed to re-create the simple pleasure of drinking at home inside a funky, no-fuss warehouse space. Avoiding the hops hype, the brewers here offer a short list of draft options on overhead chalkboards, plus a fridge of to-go bottles in the back. The Local Logic pilsner and Keeper Quencher Summer Saison were top picks from our visit. Stout fans will love the Public Declaration with notes of dark chocolate, cinnamon and roasted malt. It's worth noting that just like sipping brews in your parents' basement, no one here is waiting on you hand and foot. My date and I waited 15 minutes before a server approached us at the bar. For a laid-back, nowhere-to-be kind of Friday night, we weren't terribly annoyed. Also noteworthy: You can order packaged cheese and beef jerky (both of which are surprisingly good) at the bar or bring your own food. Tables around us packed everything from Tupperware-clad picnics to goodies from nearby taquerias. Low Rez's new Pilsen taproom might not be the most glamorous opening of the year, but it has the low-key cool vibe down pat, making it worth a trip in my book. Vitals Atmosphere: The ginormous warehouse space leaves plenty of room to mix and mingle. Did we mention it's dog-friendly? Because it is. What to eat: BYO snacks or order cheese and jerky at the bar. What to drink:
Out-of-this-world cocktails are on the menu at Apogee inside Dana Hotel
You’ll want to drink here all summer long
You’ll have to hike to Beverly to visit this spot, but it’s worth the journey.
River North gets a new beer-centric spot.
Time Out loves
If everything on John Manion’s new menu at Goose Island Brew Pub were as good as his pork sliders (pictured above), Hopleaf would go out of business. Kuma’s might, too. And I’d never think twice about fighting the frat boys to get a seat in this place again. The sliders are tiny things but huge in flavor, a combination of sweet pork and peppery Sriracha aioli. An order comes with three. You’ll want to order at least three more. Same goes for Manion’s fish tacos. The tortillas are piled with perfectly crisp tilapia, cool cabbage and a spicy chipotle mayo. Other fish-taco purveyors in the city, take note: These things pose a threat. And maybe the Publican should be worried as well, because Manion seems just as obsessed with pork as Paul Kahan. In fact, the menu seems hell-bent on feeding you pork—whether in ham, bacon or sausage form—in every bite. The descriptions can be excruciatingly hunger pang–inducing: I try to avoid specials, but I couldn’t stop wondering about the ham steak sandwich with pickled ramps and a fried egg. And I have no regrets about ordering it. The ham was impeccable, sweet and juicy, the pickled ramps addictive. The odd dichotomy between the warm egg and the cold ham was the only detraction from its genius. I also fell prey to Manion’s “Ham Burger,” a beef patty slathered with pork rillettes, topped with country ham and finished with a fried egg. It’s a gruesome thing to look at, and it’s so gluttonous that finishing it should win you a prize. But the f
Heisler Hospitality is on a roll this year—the group’s British-Indian beer bar, Pub Royale, opened in May, then in November, they opened Queen Mary Tavern, a bar that focuses on maritime drinking. Either theme could easily have been gimmicky, but Heisler knows how to put the right people in charge. At Queen Mary Tavern, Dan Smith and Mony Bunni have assembled a list of cocktails that’s true to the theme—rum, gin and Scotch abound—while using unexpected ingredients and offering sophisticated flavor profiles. Take the Stone’s Throw, which uses tahini to add sesame notes to the smoky base of Scotch and cream, while a shower of nutmeg over the top ties it all together. Albatross combines gin and madeira with Angostura and coriander for an herbal sip, and St. Erasmus is a tall, icy swizzle with funky rum and some heat from chili. My favorite is Mood Indigo, which I can imagine an epicurean pirate assembling from the spoils of his travels; with port, St. Lucian rum, Batavia Arrack, cardamom and jaggery (cane sugar from Asia and Africa), it’s richly flavored, and a whole egg adds a smooth mouthfeel. The bar had been empty for four decades before Heisler took it over. The space previously held a neighborhood tavern run by Mary Kafka, the namesake for Queen Mary, who still lives upstairs. Many of the original pieces, like the bar, remain in place, which makes Queen Mary feel like it’s been there forever. Luckily the drink list doesn’t—it’s a fresh look at three familiar spirits and
Bar review by Amy Cavanaugh Before a new bar or restaurant opens, chefs and publicists usually inundate social media with updates, obsessively document recipe testing via Instagram, and provide “first looks” to every media outlet in town. By the time the place actually opens, you’ve already seen everything. Not so with Celeste, which I listed as “new bar in Swirl Wine Bar space” under “date unknown” on the document I use to track new openings, right up until February 3, the day it actually opened. The lack of buzz means two things: One, there’s plenty to discover on a menu that hasn’t obsessively been covered. And two, you can get a seat. Celeste has become a popular industry spot—on my first visit, Sepia head bartender Griffin Elliot was sitting at a booth in the Deco Room upstairs; on another, I sat next to Steve Dolinsky at the first floor bar. Celeste is owned by brothers Nader, Fadi and Rafid Hindo; Freddie Sarkis (Sable Kitchen & Bar) and Sterling Field (Carriage House) handle bar duties. Former Sepia bartender Josh Pearson also helped with the opening before becoming the brand ambassador for Absolut Elyx. There are two bars: A first floor bar that’s long and sleek, with a more approachable cocktail menu and a DJ, and a quieter upstairs bar, which glows with light from big chandeliers and where Field makes cocktails that are more complex—and more expensive. Food, from Aaron Lirette (last at Acadia, he’s been working on Celeste for the last year and a half), is av
If Honey’s is the gold standard for upscale minimalism, its new upstairs speakeasy, the Hive, is the perfect picture of maximalism. The opium den-like space is filled to the brim with colorful velvet couches, cozy armchairs and ornate candlesticks. The bar itself is tiny and lined with four chairs from the ’70s, giving the spot a lived-in living room feel—if, of course, you had thousands of dollars to throw at vintage furniture. More enticing still is the intimate, one-on-one service. There’s no menu here; fix your gaze on the blackboard overhead for three cocktail options that rotate daily. Don’t fret if those drinks aren’t calling to you. Instead, opt for the “dealer’s choice,” which is tailored to fit your needs—just pick a spirit and let your bartender guide you to cocktail zen. Once your order is up, retreat to the cozy couches behind the bar and soak in the gorgeous space. (Pro tip: If you can, arrive promptly at 7pm, when the Hive opens, to have your pick of the couches and ample light to get the right ’gram.) While we’re still fawning over the Hive’s deep, leather tufted couch, it’s worth noting that the $12–$13 cocktails here aren’t revolutionary, and that’s not a bad thing. On our visit, we enjoyed twists on classics, like a gin gin with Rhine Hall pear brandy and a smooth paper plane with amaro. We stuck around for a few dealer’s choice cocktails as well, sipping a funky, pineapple-infused daiquiri and a negroni-esque number with rhubarb amaro. Unlike other West
The one thing I was most excited about when I was getting ready to visit the Northman—a bar on the border of North Center and Lincoln Square that we’ve been waiting two years for—was the Spanish long pour cider. It’s the one that gets poured from a tap close to the ceiling, is unfiltered and uncarbonated and gets its bubbles from falling from such a high place into a smaller vessel. It’s quite a sight, and a good experience for anyone looking to learn about cider. And you will learn something; a night at the Northman is an education in cider. Run by the Fountainhead Group, the Northman is Chicago’s first cider bar and one of just a few in the country. While it may feel like we’ve been waiting a long time for the bar, the trend of cider is just now on the upswing, departing from the heavily sugared drinks that have long dominated the country’s cider market. The Northman’s menu is pages upon pages long, filled with ciders from England, Spain and the U.S. (to name just a few), which can be overwhelming when you find drinks that range from sweet to semi-sweet to dry and you have no idea where to begin. Not to worry, your server will be right there to help you find one to fit your palate—the staff is filled with serious cider geeks. You’ll start your night with an amuse-bouche of sorts—a sip of the Northman’s house cider—before settling on your first of many ciders (the list is constantly rotating). Move on to the food and order some shared plates, or maybe just some cheese and
Generally speaking, income tax isn’t something we’re thrilled about; it’s more of a necessary evil. Income Tax, a new wine bar in Edgewater, on the other hand, is a place you should get excited about. It’s more than your run-of-the-mill wine bar, offering excellent service, above and beyond tasting notes, comfortable digs and outstanding small bites. If you’re looking at wines by the glass, the list is focused and concise with one page of options. For bottle seekers, prepare to be indulged with five pages of decisions, including eau de vies, brandies and beer. But we recommend ditching the menu altogether (unless you’re a total wine expert, then help yourself) and asking your server where to start. Normally, when listing off the things I like in a wine (a fruity red with a light body, but nothing too sweet), I’m met with a tasting. That’s not the case at Income Tax. Instead, there were more questions to narrow in on the perfect glass: “What level of acidity do you prefer?” “What colors of red do you normally go for?” And if totally stumped, “Would you be open to trying a white? I’m sure you’ll like it.” Only then will you be served a tasting—either from the menu or the “drink your share” board, where bottles are opened and you pay only for the portion you drink. Not totally up to your liking? Went a little too adventurous? No worries, the staff is more than happy to continue the search to find a vino that suits you. The same philosophy carries over to the food offerings. On
Perhaps you’ve noticed: Agave spirits are trending in Chicago. The city now boasts four bars and restaurants—Mezcaleria Las Flores, La Mez, Masa Azul and Leña Brava’s bar—that are dedicated to mescal. While each of these locations serves the Mexican liquor, the goal is different for each—whether it’s catering to the neighborhood or serving drinks alongside food. Mezcaleria Las Flores offers a very relaxed atmosphere, with old school hip-hop, laid-back servers and well made cocktails that aren’t as expensive as they could be at $10 a piece. For the quality, they’re worth the price. The bar is in the old Flower Shop Bar space attached to Johnny’s Grill, serving the restaurant’s food menu in addition to its own concoctions. It fits into Logan Square, where you could throw a rock and hit a cocktail bar—delivering good drinks and a pleasant vibe to the 20- and 30-something crowd. I fell for it immediately. We didn’t set out to drink the whole menu during my visit, but that feat was easier than expected. The seven cocktails on the menu (plus two margaritas) are ranked by their level of spirit-forwardness, smokiness and adventurous-ness to help steer you in the right direction. In that way, we were the perfect group to try a bit of everything—a sugar fiend, a smoke fan, a sucker for anything refreshing and someone who will try it all. I tend to fit into the latter two categories and don’t usually prefer much smoke in my drinks, but one of my favorite cocktails of the night was ra
The cozy bar, located on the Evanston side of Howard St, has left a lot of the nonsense of the current cocktail movement behind. This is a good thing. Where Ward’s forebears still write shaming rules (“No light beer. No Grey Goose.”) and dictate that bartenders wear vests, Ward bartenders have no dress code, and their rules (“Please don’t shout”) are nothing but polite requests. This lack of pretense (which was always a benefit of drinking at the late Andersonville bar In Fine Spirits, where Ward owners Anne Carlson and Cody Modeer used to work) is just one of the charms here. Others include the frosty coupe the well-made Hemingway cocktail comes in and the high-flavor, low-maintenance bar menu. The room is small and warmly lit. The bartenders are friendly and serious. The cocktails are practiced and perfect. But at Ward Eight, none of this is presented as a big, important deal. Here, the spectacle surrounding cocktail culture has been rubbed away, revealing a way of serving drinks that actually feels new.
Update December 2014: On my first couple review visits to Analogue, I fell hard for Alfredo Nogueira's Cajun food, like the light smoked fish dip, fluffy biscuits served with pepper jelly and a fried chicken sandwich on toast. But the cocktails were kind of lackluster, and certainly weren't the main draw. And then I went back, and back again, at first for the food, then both the food and drinks. The cocktails have gotten better and better over time, so much so that I'm revising my star rating, from 3 to 4. This is a comfortable, low-key cocktail bar, where you can get an excellent cocktail like a bourbon and sherry cobbler and a terrific plate of food. In the year it's been open, Analogue has already become one of my favorite bars in Chicago.—AC Bar review by Amy Cavanaugh I was talking recently with one of my favorite bartenders (who will remain nameless), who said I had to go try the gumbo at Analogue, which opened in Logan Square in December. “They put potato salad in the middle, which is just like they do in the South!” And then I started hearing reports from friends, praising the smoked fish dip, the fried chicken sandwich and the Scotch egg, all of which have Cajun twists. There hasn’t been nearly as much talk about the drinks, made by Violet Hour vets Henry Prendergast and Robert Haynes. The pair were aiming to open a cocktail bar that’s more accessible than the Violet Hour—“We kind of want to loosen it up here and have more fun with it,” Prendergast told us—and t
I love makeup. Sitting down at a vanity packed with tiny vials of powders, pigments and liquids to experiment with your look, well, there’s nothing quite like it. And afterward, you feel so glamorous. I’d be lying if I said this ritual happened every day, but when it does, it’s magical. It’s the same kind of magic I imagine Julia Momose, the head bartender at Annex and GreenRiver, feels when she looks at the array of tinctures and spirits behind the bar. And she should, because the drinks she comes up with are nothing short of enchanting. When you sit down at Annex, you’re presented with a wooden box filled with cards that serve as the menu of seasonal cocktails, from easy sippers to spirit-heavy drinks. There’s an occasional curveball in the mix, but if you order 12 cocktails at once—as I was tempted to do—you should drink them according to the menu’s progression. Asking your bartender for their favorite will get you nowhere, because the answer is likely “all of them.” You should definitely order more than one—just pick a few that you’re interested in, starting at the front of the menu and ending at the back. After much deliberation, I finally settled on the Chorus Girl to start. Each cocktail comes with a corresponding spice, and I’m a sucker for turmeric. I sucked this one down quicker than I should have, but it was just so easy to drink. That said, not everything on the menu goes down so easily. Take the Law-maker, with a sesame spice base, sherry oak Scotch whiskey and
Spanish cuisine has been quietly surging in Chicago over the past few years, with great restaurants like Salero, mfk. and Vera opening, tonic-heavy Spanish gin and tonics appearing on cocktail lists around the city, and a sherry revolution under way across the country. The latest entrant is Bom Bolla, a bar from the Pops for Champagne team that focuses mostly on cava, sherry and other Spanish wines and serves a tapas menu. Bom Bolla opens at 2pm each day, and it’s a lovely spot for spending an afternoon sipping wines and snacking on simple dishes, like bitter black olives soaking in fino sherry, crumbly slices of aged manchego with a pat of quince paste, and the fried squid bocadillo, a sandwich packed with tender squid, saffron aioli and a squeeze of lemon on top. These are all salty snacks, ideal with a glass of sherry, like the Inocente, a fino sherry that’s a little bitter and briny, or Gran Gesta, a clean cava rose with berry notes. It’s also easy to build a satisfying meal with more substantial dishes like manila clams, which come basking in a broth of vermouth with garlicky salsa verde—ask for extra bread to sop up every bit. There were a few missteps, including a cold, hard-to-spread hunk of ‘nduja sausage and a burned piece of toast topped with pepper relish and salt cod. But the single dessert closes the night on a high note—it’s an ethereal slice of manchego cheesecake that I’m already dreaming about eating again. Vitals Atmosphere: It’s a funky, lively space,
Bar review by Amy Cavanaugh Tucked beneath Sumi Robata Bar is an 11-seat bar that one of my boozing companions called “an Office you can actually get into.” He wasn’t exaggerating. Charcoal Bar, which opened last July under bartender Mathew “Choo” Lipsky and reopened under Michael Simon (Carriage House, Qui in Austin) on Valentine’s Day, is so good I’ve already been three times. On no visit were there ever more than four people outside my party, so getting seats has never been a problem, unlike under Lipsky. Also unlike Lipsky, Simon has a ton of personality, so what was once a quiet, sometimes awkward bar has become a lot more fun. Gene Kato’s exceptional Sumi is known for its simple, elegant Japanese dishes, and Simon applies the same philosophies to his cocktails, which range from $14-$20. The current list has five options, all with Game of Thrones names, like the plum-laced Mother of Dragons, made with Japanese whiskey, shochu and demerara sugar fortified with togarashi, mirin and other ingredients. While Simon is using complex ingredients, every drink was balanced and thoughtful. He’ll also make you whatever you want to drink for $18, including an absolutely killer Negroni. You can order almost anything off Sumi’s menu to be delivered downstairs (the exception being the ishiyaki, meat cooked on a hot stone, which would smoke out the place). “I’ve had three of the tofu dishes tonight,” a man next to me at the bar boasted when he saw my friends and I sharing one. Salty
There’s a school of thought that insists a $14 cocktail should come with something like a nugget of gold. A beautiful companion, maybe. Something sparkly, or cashmere. Even a grilled cheese sandwich would help. By this logic, a cocktail is just a cocktail—if you’re going to pay more, it better come with something else. Seems fair enough. The cocktail revolutionaries of our time might suggest that a good cocktail is in itself worth that kind of cash. But these guys are dressing up and shaking their drinks with theatrics. Even they know that a cocktail isn’t worth more than a ten spot—that’s why they provide a cocktail and a show. The show at the Elysian’s Bernard’s is a little different from those at the mixology bars. There’s not a lot of face time with the bartender—you get a server instead. And the place is far too refined to fill the air with the sound of shaking ice (they fill it with Bon Iver). Here, the show is the luxury: The folded linen napkins. The table set with cocktail bites (marcona almonds, house-fried potato chips, marinated olives). The quiet, serious service. It’s an experience so luxe and attentive that the price of the drinks is justified even before you get them. So by the time one of the balanced, dry and almost excessively bold cocktails arrive, it actually seems like a steal.
These are—let’s face it—grim days for wine drinkers. Sure, there are great neighborhood wine stores and a few devoted sommeliers, but when a restaurant hands you a leather-bound binder of beers, you’ll be lucky if a half-page toward the back is spared for the wine selection. Conversations about which wine bar to go to often are really just multiple people opining on the current state of Rootstock (though said opinions nearly always skew positive). And why bother with a sommelier when you can hire a high-profile bartender? And so there couldn’t be a brighter development for people who love wine than the opening of a place like Telegraph, a Logan Square wine bar and restaurant from the owners of Webster’s Wine Bar. Telegraph’s wine list is smaller than Webster’s and focused on wines produced “naturally.” That term is so loose it often means nothing, but here it means that even if you get one of the cheaper sparklings by the glass ($9), it’s going to come from a small biodynamic grower-producer (Philippe Bornard) in the Jura region of France, and it’s going to be lovely and gentle and just the slightest bit funky (in a good way). There is a beautiful, elegant Austrian sparkling from the Wimmer-Czerny winery ($16/glass); there is cheap, tart, sparkly Basque txakoli ($6/glass); there is a lush gamay ($9) that pairs quite well with a special of housemade sausage and baked rigatoni. About that rigatoni: It, and the rest of the food, comes from John Anderes, who came to Telegraph f
Most popular Chicago bars
Millennials, myself included, have grown up on artisanal cocktails and craft beers, which has me thinking a lot about the evolution of the third place. What will the neighborhood tavern look like in 50 years? Where will future generations belly up on a Thursday night to shoot the shit over beer and shots of whiskey? Chances are, it will look a lot like Neon Wilderness, the latest project from barman Brad Bolt in partnership with Heisler Hospitality’s Matt Eisler and Kevin Heisner. (The trio’s bygone Bar DeVille will reopen soonish, too, somewhere in West Town.) This snug, urban wood cabin—where beer only comes in cans and glassware is anything but precious—achieves the rare balance between neighborhood joint and cocktail bar. Bolt cleverly offsets his higher-end drink lineup with a solid spate of daily happy hour specials. I sunk into a high-backed barstool and contemplated the drink menu while, two seats over, a dude urged me to consider one of two daily $7 deals: a sidecar or his order, the “solid” old fashioned. A duo on my left both partook in another special, a can of Revolution Cross of Gold and shot of house bourbon for $5. “We live at Division and Ashland,” one told the bartender before tossing back his whiskey. “So we’re happy this is here.” I decided on the Sharon Stone sour, a frothy, orangey bourbon sour that owes its warm finish to a splash of ginger syrup. The Polish Broadway, a Żubrówka vodka old fashioned with autumnal cider syrup and drying angostura bitt
Lost Lake is not Three Dots and a Dash. But it’s impossible to talk about the new Logan Square/Avondale tiki bar without talking about Three Dots, so we’ll get it out of the way. Both are from bartender Paul McGee, who ran Three Dots and a Dash before departing Lettuce Entertain You group in December to join Land & Sea Dept. (Longman & Eagle, Parson’s Chicken & Fish) to open Lost Lake and future projects for the restaurant group. On the surface, there are plenty of similarities—drinks that double as flower arrangements, lush tropical decor, Hawaiian print–clad bartenders and Americanized Chinese snacks. A couple of McGee’s Three Dots drinks, like Bunny’s Banana Daiquiri and Poipu Beach Boogie Board, even made the trip to Avondale. But that’s where the similarities end, because one sip of the cocktails tells you McGee is going in a new direction. Where Three Dots was crowd-pleasing, and even the booziest drinks were fruit-forward, Lost Lake is more challenging—and more interesting. Sure, the banana daiquiri is easy-going, but Hula Hips of Heaven has a double dose of agave, with smoky mezcal and tequila providing a strong base for citrus fruits and spices, while the Scotch-based Cocoanut Grove Cooler has a punch of peat smoothed out with pineapple and lemon, plus Batavia Arrack, rum’s Indonesian predecessor. Both are good, but I prefer Pool Rules, perfectly balanced between rum and bourbon, with vanilla and nice warm spices; Tic Tac Taxi, a coconut-passionfruit-rum slushie th
Like the first time I tried to go to the Violet Hour and walked straight past the door, I had no idea how to get into the Drifter, a new bar located underneath Green Door Tavern. But while the Violet Hour was Chicago’s first nouveau speakeasy, bar culture has changed over the past eight years—now, when a bar claims to be a speakeasy, all that means is that it’s dark, with well-made cocktails and bartenders in retro clothes. The Drifter breaks the mold, since it’s actually located in an old speakeasy space, and it’s missing the pretentious trappings a lot of cocktail bars have. In speakeasy days, people would enter a door a couple blocks away and get into the bar through a window, which has been covered over. We had to ask at Green Door how to get in, so I’ll save you the trouble: Walk through Green Door, head downstairs and enter through the wooden door that’s next to the restrooms. There’s no sign, but if the door guy isn’t there taking names for a waitlist that grows longer as the night goes on (though we walked right in at 5:30pm on a Saturday), knock and he’ll let you in. Once inside, the space is dark, cozy and full of objects that were already there when bartender Liz Pearce (Gage, Drawing Room, Aviary) took over the unused space. There are old paintings, like one of FDR that overlooks the end of the bar, a bullet-riddled Mobil sign, flags billowing from the ceiling and dozens of dusty old bottles lined up atop the bar. It’s a comfortable, low-key spot to hang out, a
When Grant Achatz does a cocktail bar, it should go without saying that it's no ordinary cocktail bar. At the Aviary, which opened next door to Next in 2011, cocktails receive the same innovative treatment from beverage director Micah Melton as the food at Next or Alinea. That is to say, you should expect to drink cocktails like the Junglebird, a science experiment in liquid density, with layers of rum, campari, pineapple-lime syrup and rum "pearls" suspended in the drink. O'Doyle Rules comes with a fried banana snack on top of the rum-curry-cognac concoction, while Loaded to the Gunwalls is delivered with a single tapered candle. The drink, with pineapple, hazelnut and Batavia Arrack, is served in a glass ship in a bottle. You've never seen a drink like it, and given how rare a visit to the Aviary is, you may never again.
Bar review by Amy Cavanaugh There are, it seems, two Three Dots and a Dash. There’s the crowded, noisy Three Dots, where a DJ plays Justin Timberlake and you’re lucky to get a seat—and even if you do, someone will be elbowing you in the back as they urge their friend to “Chug! Chug! Chug!” their marigold-accented tiki drink. Then there’s the serene tiki bar, where you can sit at the raffia-decorated bar and listen to island-themed music while you eat coconut shrimp. I just can’t seem to find the second Three Dots. I’ve been to the bar on several occasions, weekdays and weekends, at 5:15pm, right after Three Dots opens, and at 11:15pm for a nightcap after dinner. No matter when I go, the bar is raucous and the music is loud. Friends swear they’ve been to Three Dots when it’s quiet and you don’t have to yell at your companions to be heard. I haven’t found that magic time yet. But it’s River North, right? And Three Dots is the hot new bar, and a Melman project at that, so of course people are going to line up in the alley, where a blue light marks the door and a bouncer with an earpiece checks IDs, right? Right. So I’m going to move on and tell you why you should pack your earplugs and just go anyway. First of all, 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. These aren’t frozen daiquiris dispensed from
In the history of American drinking, the ’70s—best summed up by tequila sunrises, grasshoppers and Harvey Wallbangers—are a grim period indeed. But now that bartenders have succeeded in restoring pre-Prohibition cocktails to their rightful place on drink lists, many have turned their attention to improving ‘70s recipes. Better ingredients and tweaked formulas have yielded some terrific drinks (case in point: the delicious minty grasshoppers all over Chicago), but the Heavy Feather is taking the ‘70s thing to another level—it’s an entire bar devoted to the decade. Unlike other ‘70s bars, including New York’s now-closed Golden Cadillac, the Heavy Feather feels less like a theme park and more like a refined bar that just happens to serve drinks from the era. The restraint isn’t really surprising, given who’s behind the bar—the Scofflaw group, with beverage director Doug Phillips at the helm. Located above Slippery Slope (where Phillips also handles drinks), the Heavy Feather plays on a fern bar, a type of drinking establishment from the era that was decked out with potted ferns, served sweet drinks and aimed to appeal to single women. Instead of sugary concoctions, Phillips offers up a list of 13 balanced drinks, like a velvety amaretto sour, improved with the addition of bourbon and frothy egg white, and creamy grasshopper ice cream drink strengthened with cognac. If the fern bars of yore were half as good as the Heavy Feather, they would never have gone out of style. Vitals
You enter the Ladies’ Room through a curtain near the bathroom of Fat Rice Bakery. The brighter lights in the bakery, filled with tables of diners, make you feel slightly ridiculous waiting for a hush-hush cocktail experience. But it’s all right, because after a short wait next to the pastry shelves you’ll find yourself in the dimly lit, reservation-only cocktail bar. Once your eyes adjust to the red glow dominating the space, you’ll notice just how tiny this little bar is—only a handful of two-tops and three tables set for groups of about four, showing just how ready the place is for date night. There’s a board or card game at each table, reinforcing the Chinese-gambling-hall feel of the 19th- and 20th-century Macau red light district that inspired partners Abraham Conlon and Adrienne Lo. Cocktail lovers will fall for Conlon’s menu, filled with non-traditional recipes and ingredients you might not expect to find on a cocktail menu. It’s divided into a few sections, including “Classics Reimagined,” “New Mad Style,” “Tea[s] for Two” and “Big Guns.” Under “Classics Reimagined,” you’ll find cocktails with somewhat familiar names, like a White Negroni and Dr. Manhattan. But they’re not quite what you’ll expect—the Dr. Manhattan, for instance, is packed with rye, vermouth and house-aged elements from what the bar calls “speculative Dr. Pepper ingredients,” turning it into a fruity but boozy departure from a traditional Manhattan. Cocktails in the “Tea[s] for Two” section come
I can’t stop playing “Golden Teardrops,” the haunting 1953 single by Chicago doo-wop group the Flamingos. It’s beautifully arranged, the kind of nostalgic pop tune you might put on loop while crying over a lost love into a stiff drink—or three. The clandestine basement bar from Land and Sea Dept. (Parson’s Chicken & Fish, Lost Lake) named for this pared-down R&B hit is likewise stylishly moody, an ideal spot for a cozy nightcap. Where I felt doo-wop’s influence most, however, was in barman Paul McGee’s eight minimalist riffs on classic cocktails. My two dates and I began the evening wolfing down tacos at airy, Tex-Mex sister spot Lonesome Rose—highly recommended, as Golden Teardrops traffics in high-proof sips but no food. We headed back outside into the alley and down the building’s back steps, where a small black sign assured us we were in the right place. Once inside, this low-ceilinged 40-seater wraps you in the snug semi-darkness of an old Brooklyn cocktail bar, thanks to black walls, vintage gold-vein mirror tile and lighting that consists mostly of votive candles and a jarring neon sign that reads “Weddings & Funerals.” This last photogenic detail—which I’m told nods to the two life occasions that bring friends and family together to seriously drink—buoys the vibe with prevailingly twee dark humor. We nabbed an alcoved table opposite the L-shaped mahogany bar, where I bellied up to order each round (there are no roving servers here). Dual letter boards display the
The Fifty/50 Group’s Benjamin Schiller is one of Chicago’s most imaginative bartenders, so it should come as no surprise that he’s crafting out-of-this-world cocktails at his new post at Apogee inside Dana Hotel. Served in seashells, horns and giant glass mushrooms, the drinks at this River North rooftop are served with a side of whimsy. The expertly designed space extends outdoors to a pristine perch that’s outfitted with with a sleek, modern firepit. Come for the wildly creative drink menu and stay for the stunning visuals and top city views. Vitals: Atmosphere: The typical rooftop bar is all grown up with neat light fixtures, gorgeous furniture and stellar views. What to eat: There aren’t any snacks here, but you’re a stone’s throw from Quartino, Eataly and Portillo’s. What to drink: Apogee specializes in large-format cocktails, and we loved the Fibonacci with Flor de Cana rum, North Shore aquavit, raspberry and lemon. For individual cocktails, showstoppers include the rummy Panda Party with sesame seeds and orange powder and the Fifth Char with rye, anise and coconut ash. Where to sit: Since this is a ticketed seating, you won’t have much of a choice, but it never hurts to ask if you can hang outside.
Occasionally I’ll drink wine at a cocktail bar or a cocktail at a beer bar, but for the most part, I stick with what each bar does best. That’s hard to do at Band of Bohemia, an innovative new brewpub from Alinea vets Craig Sindelar and Michael Carroll, because the cocktail and wine lists are incredibly thoughtful as well. The beers, made with ingredients like beets and thyme, are Carroll’s purview (you can spy the tanks through a window behind the bar), while Sindelar pours well-selected wines and Carlos Matias III (Dusek’s) serves exceptional cocktails. It’s hard to decide where to start, though any of the warm and capable bar staff and servers can point you in the right direction. Since you’ll likely be sampling a couple different things, here’s more good news—the food, from Matt DuBois (EL Ideas, Inovasi) and Kevin McMullen (The Brixton), features ingenious combinations of ingredients and is well-executed across the board. The menu is divided based on beer pairings, and $3-$4 samples of beers are available. So that means you can, and should, pair spicy, tender prawns and carrot kimchi with orange chicory rye ale, or the tender potato cake accented by romesco and piparras with savory grilled apple tarragon beer. Even desserts, like spongy almond cake with caramel, have suggested beer pairings; here it’s a nutty basmati and maitake brew. Band of Bohemia sells tickets through Tock (unsurprising, given the Alinea connection), but while you can book the chef’s table or prix
You might as well be walking into a Wes Anderson film when you enter Estereo, where everything is tinted slightly yellow-gold and patterns—from tiled floors to detailing on the bar—make you feel like you’re on set. The all-day bar from Heisler Hospitality (Pub Royale, Sportsman’s Club, Trenchermen, Queen Mary Tavern) has a “leave your worries at the door” vibe that transports you to an island town where three old guys wearing oversized button-downs sit at the bar all day long. And you can sit all day long, too. The bar opens daily at 11am with coffee from Dark Matter and pastries like guava croissants and chocolate croissants, while afternoons offer a list of ten cocktails based on specific spirits. Drinks come from Ben Fasman (Sportsman’s Club, Big Star) and Michael Rubel (Lone Wolf, Violet Hour), with spirits like pisco, cachaca, rum, tequila and mescal dominating the menu. The menu changes regularly, with one exception: the Breezy, a highball served in a branded plastic cup (this somehow feels fun and whimsical rather than childish or gimmicky) with your choice of spirit (gin and rum are our favorites), Yerba Mate, Falernum, lime and soda. It’s built to be an easy sipper year-round—light with just enough body to pull us through the cold winter. The drinks are exceptional, but what really makes this place tick is its vibe. Music from a turntable fills the air with bright Latin-American tunes. Settle in at the large, triangle-shaped bar that dominates the space, or for a m
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?) and oft-changing house cocktails. But you stay at the Barrelhouse Flat for the food, namely the headcheese poutine and whatever the daily flavor of popcorn is.
Some excellent cocktail bars have opened in Chicago this year, but none are serving cocktails quite as interesting as Broken Shaker, the second location of Gabe Orta and Elad Zvi’s Miami bar, which checks in at #22 on the World’s 50 Best Bars list. Located in the Freehand Hotel, the Chicago outpost also aims high—it’s under the watch of talented bartender Freddie Sarkis, who finessed some Broken Shaker classics for Chicago drinkers by making them less sweet and contributed new cocktails to the 15-drink list. Where the Miami spot has a pool and a sprawling patio, the Chicago bar is dark and cozy, with palm tree wallpaper lending a bit of the tropics. It’s a comfortable spot for working through the cocktail list, which is packed with balanced, successful drinks. Fresh fruits and herbs play a large role in Miami, and in Chicago, there’s an emphasis on savory. Some combinations sound out there, but the flavors work in harmony, as in Risky Business, gin punched up with umeboshi vinegar, pickles and herbal Balsam Amaro from Rare Tea Cellar’s Rodrick Markus and bartender Adam Seger. In the Godmother, sherry and mezcal take on vegetal notes from roasted corn reduction, and a rim coated with savory chapulin (yep, grasshoppers) herb salt adds clean salinity. The only cocktail I tried but didn’t finish was Chicago Politics, with an aggressive burn from Sichuan pepper that overwhelms the Absolut Elyx, sherry and spiced coconut cream. The thought put into cocktails here extends to simp
On the door of Dusek's Board and Beer, the opening date (2013) is laid out in gold letters. Next to it is an unexpected word: "re-established." Rather than bring an overpriced, newfangled hipster paradise to East Pilsen, the folks behind Dusek's have done something unexpected: tried to bring a little bit of the neighborhood back to its 19th-century roots. Dusek's is only one part of the ambitious Thalia Hall project that includes a bar, a restaurant and a performance venue. Thalia Hall was originally the creation of John Dusek, who opened the building in 1892, when the neighborhood was Czech. The hall itself isn't quite refurbished yet (though I peeked inside and the space is incredible) but the bar and restaurant are ready to go. The restaurant itself is cozy and warm, with a tin ceiling, tons of Edison bulbs, and reclaimed wood–and–wrought iron tables that, while beautiful, can be a bit unstable. One corner of the front dinner room looks like a movie set of a 1940s dining room, completely with books, tchotchkes and a table set on a platform a few inches off of the ground. The owners wanted to re-establish Dusek's idea of a multipurpose community hall, which had me seriously anxious—concert venues traditionally serve pretty mediocre food. With chef Jared Wentworth (Longman & Eagle) at the helm, I shouldn't have worried. In fact, my visit to Dusek's was the first time in months that I've looked at a menu and been totally unable to pick what to order; everything looked too
Though I grew up in the Chicago suburbs, I didn’t regularly visit the city until my teens. We’d pile into a ’97 Ford Taurus and drive in for punk-rock shows at the Fireside Bowl or Metro, always capping the night with an order of cheese fries or, years later, rounds of Jameson shots. These pilgrimages represented my first taste of adult freedom and the sweaty, buoyant camaraderie of an intimate live show. Entering the reddish glow of Good Measure—with its checkerboard floor and mahogany bar lined with revelers chatting over civilized decibels of the Ramones and the Vandals—brought back familiarly cozy, punk vibes. Toss in upgraded classic cocktails and superbly indulgent bar bites, and this promises to be a solid enough neighborhood joint to regularly lure me to River North. We arrived early enough on a Friday to claim one of just four high-backed red booths lining the wall opposite a long L-shaped bar. At least half of the patrons were sipping something in a glass mug, which I learned was the superfizzy Toki highball that the bar features for $6 between 4 and 6pm daily. The refreshing cocktail is as bubbly as champagne thanks to a machine from Japanese whiskey brand Suntory Toki, which chills the liquid and pumps out perfectly rationed, fantastically carbonated servings. Craving something brown and stirred on a dreary Friday, I started instead with the Penicillin—a smoky ode to autumn with local Scotch, honey and ginger syrups and a spritz of peaty Ardbeg Scotch to drive
The second cocktail bar in the Fifty/50 Restaurant Group’s lineup and the sixth concept overall (hence its name), the Sixth provides Lincoln Square with some truly tasty cocktails conceived by beverage director Benjamin Schiller. And while the vibe tends toward upscale, it manages to appeal to both neighborhood locals grabbing a drink after work and outsiders looking for a well-crafted drink that balances whimsy with familiarity. Sitting at the bar, two neighborhood residents next to me ask the bartender for recommendations—it’s easy to do in the small space—and one is expertly guided to a spirited cocktail, the Weston, with wheated bourbon, Dark Matter’s Unicorn Blood coffee and a whiff of pipe tobacco. Meanwhile, I start off with the Silly Rabbit, a gin-based drink with flavored (and colored) ice cubes presented in a highball and a carafe, to pour the cocktail over the ice and watch the colors slowly change. “Is that sweet?” my neighbor asks, pointing at my drink—it isn’t, it’s tart and citrusy, despite colors that could tip it off as sugary. We fall into easy conversation, trying different cocktails and sharing thoughts, which seems normal at a neighborhood watering hole. While the service is attentive and helpful (they let me hold on to my Silly Rabbit until it had all melted away), the bar isn’t without its quirks. It shares a back kitchen space with Roots Handmade Pizza, which led to an awkward run-in with a Roots server asking if I knew someone ordering pizza at the
There are two options when you enter John and Karen Urie Shields’ Smyth + The Loyalist. You can head upstairs to Smyth for a modern fine dining experience, complete with a prix fixe menu, or you can walk downstairs to the Loyalist, a sultry bar with upscale bites (including an amazing cheeseburger) and killer cocktails. Positioned in the West Loop, the spot is perfect for a before- or after-dinner drink, but you could also spend a whole night there. The Loyalist’s cocktail menu is the centerpiece, springing from the mind of former MFK bartender Roger Landes. The menu is well rounded, with a mix of light and spirit-forward drinks, including twists on classics and more original ideas. All the cocktails have at least one special component, such as the use of Chinato in place of Campari in the Innocents Abroad with Gentiane, creating a citrusy and bitter negroni. Likewise, the Nothing Noble combines bourbon with demerara sugar, a bit of Amargo Valet and mint for an herbal twist on a classic old-fashioned. It isn’t just the variations and balance that makes these cocktails interesting—there’s also something to be said for the presentation. Drinks come in beautiful etched glass goblets and fancy thin-walled lowballs that exude quality and attention to detail. The food works well for the space too, with primarily small plates made for sharing—a sharp contrast to the fine dining dishes served upstairs. The most notable thing on the menu is the cheeseburger, served on a sesame seed
The theme of most breweries’ tasting rooms is a rustic, minimalist aesthetic—picnic tables, wooden chairs and bars finished with a natural stain. Show up in a T-shirt, baseball hat and your worn-out jeans and you’ll fit right in. After all, it’s just beer, right? We love a good old-fashioned brewery, but feeling a little pampered isn’t too bad, either. And Moody Tongue’s taproom is just the place to feel spoiled and drink a beer—a novel idea we’re totally behind. With painted white brick, a huge white marble wraparound bar, a fireplace and blue leather stools and blue velvet armchairs, this spot feels plush. You can cozy up near the fireplace with one of the beer books the bar collects, or pull up a seat at the bar and strike up a friendly conversation with a bartender. Tall ceilings and gold touches make this spot feel classy—every design decision the bar makes goes one step further to solidify Moody Tongue’s departure from a traditional brewery. The food is indulgent too—the brewery only offers two menu items: chocolate cake and oysters. Brewer Jared Rouben maintains that these are the two best foods to pair with beers, and your server will help steer you in the right direction between the two. For example, the Steeped Emperor’s Lemon Saison brings out the salty umami and clarity in the oysters while, in contrast, providing an acidic balance to the rich chocolate cake—either way, the pairing works. The oyster selections switch out regularly, but they’re delightful and tee
Enterprising barchitects Wade McElroy and Jeff Donahue (Sportsman’s Club, Estereo) took another shot at reviving the beloved Orbit Room space in Avondale—this time with much success. Ludlow Liquors carves out a distinct identity for itself through a roster of spirit-forward cocktails available by the ounce plus greasy drinking food that artfully blends Midwestern nostalgia with Filipino tradition. Entering the dim, orange-cast tavern while the Clash crooned reggae-lite punk over the speakers evoked the familiar, snug embrace of a neighborhood dive (though, for the record, it’s far cleaner and lacks the typical old-bar musk). Despite the fact that the doors opened for service just an hour earlier, the 17-seat bartop was totally occupied. My husband and I slid into one of the toffee-hued leather booths lining the wall opposite the bar to peruse the menu. Most of the cocktails here are available as one-, two- or three-ounce pours, allowing guests to sip sample-sized portions of the boozy offerings. At first, I dismissed the idea as far too Brooklyn for our big-shouldered city. Who’d opt to go small on a drink like the Summit—a light, bright and nutty whiskey martini with Suntory Toki, fino sherry and persimmon liqueur? Or the charming absinthe-washed Sportsman, with caramel-scented bourbon, Italian rhubarb amaro and a double dose of bitters? But as I neared the bottom of my first coupe, the appeal of sampling an ounce or two of the Delicious #7—a botanically inclined mescal a
This fun, honky tonk-style taqueria in the Windy City’s Wicker Park neighborhood couldn’t be more serious about its tacos, and it shows: its al pastor variety is a thing of pure beauty. Marinated pork shoulder is roasted to crackling on a spit, then carved into tortillas and topped with grilled pineapple and onions, plus plenty of fresh cilantro.
The novella-length menu at this cozy, low-key Humboldt Park alcove contains loving and helpful descriptions of an impressive selection of wines and beers. But if you still have no idea where to start, ask—everyone behind the bar is willing to let you taste through options until you find a wine you’ll love. The list includes lots of gems, most for less than $10 a glass, and the majority of bottles are under $100. To fuel all the wine-drinking, the food menu includes an array of small plates served until 1am. The food leans gastropub, and the menu changes daily, but you’ll always be able to order an excellent cheese and charcuterie plate, with a silky, housemade chicken liver pate and a rotating selection of interesting cheeses. This is the kind of warm, simple neighborhood place you’ll never want—or need—to leave.
When restaurateur Danny Meyer and the team behind New York’s Dead Rabbit Grocery & Grog announced they were opening a Chicago location, it was instantly a Big Deal. They confirmed that by signing on Julia Momose (the Aviary/Office) as head bartender and Aaron Lirette (Celeste) as executive chef, two people whose work I’ve admired for awhile—Momose for her use of unexpected ingredients and innovative flavor combinations, and Lirette for his refined takes on classic dishes (I still recall his jidori chicken and octopus dishes from Celeste fondly). With their talent, GreenRiver is one of Chicago’s best bars—with a gorgeous view to boot. GreenRiver has a Chicago history/Irish theme, but it’s subtle, aside from the drink names, which nod to Chicago historical figures. There’s a primer on each on the cocktail list, which is divided by key ingredients, such as corn, agave and grape and apple. To do justice to this menu, you need time to read through it—do it with a drink in hand by ordering a highball from a separate list. The eight highballs are the sleeper hits of the menu, like housemade Japanese plum vinegar soda spiked with Carpano Bianco vermouth, a bright concoction with a vegetal edge, and cassis liqueur with housemade oolong tea soda, which is lightly sweet with herbal notes. The cocktails have a lot going on, and GreenRiver’s food menu is a nice counterpoint—the dishes are familiar with gentle twists. For starters, fried chicken oysters with pickled pepper sauce are a pl
When Pub Royale opened in May 2015 with a British-Indian theme, it sounded almost too hyperspecific—and potentially dicey—to work. But while Britain and India have a long, complicated political history, there’s a clear culinary relationship as well, since their cuisines have merged into Anglo-Indian food, a cuisine style best exemplified by chicken tikka masala, a curry popular in Britain. That’s the angle Pub Royale, the latest bar from Heisler Hospitality (Sportsman’s Club), takes with their food and drink, which includes a lineup of Pimm’s Cups, the summery British favorite, curries and a daily-changing beer and cider menu that rivals the best beer bars in Chicago. The drink list, from beverage director Michael McAvena (Publican), has a mix of interesting local, national and international beers on draft, as well as ciders from the U.S., Spain, France and England. The fact that there’s a thoughtful food menu might make you confuse this for a restaurant, but it’s firmly a bar. All seats are first-come, first-served, so you can’t count on getting to eat. But if you’re hungry and manage to score seats, the menu, from Jason Vaughan, director of culinary development, is packed with hits, including spicy lamb dumplings and a doughnut made from naan dough that’s topped with chai dulce de leche. But it was the service that really stood out—everyone I talked to there was incredibly nice and knowledgeable, making Pub Royale the kind of place you want to make your regular spot. V
Notorious 4am bar Bonny’s was the home of many late night dance parties for two years in Logan Square, before closing in 2012. The space remained empty until November 2016 when owners Jared and Carly Savocchi gave the bar a new look and feel, reopening the space as the Native. The neighborhood bar is outfitted with ’70s décor, including big leather booths and a maple bar that feels unpretentious, with both a solid craft beer list and budget-friendly domestics available. You’ll find free popcorn and $10 frozen pizzas too, making this feel like the ideal place to meet up with friends for beer instead of fancy bites and cocktails. The bar might be relatively new, but members of the community have already started to find their home as regulars—burning through scratch-offs with vodka sodas while Dolly, the resident dog, cleans up any of the free popcorn they’ve spilled. The brief cocktail menu boasts drinks like the Woods—a muddled mix of Yellow Chartreuse, Vida Mezcal, Martin Miller’s Gin and Ancho Reyes that lacks a defined taste. You’ll find twists on a Negroni (made with Malört) and a Wisconsin old-fashioned, but you might be better off ordering a beer. The draft list supplies ten rotating beers, including five domestics (Miller High Life, Miller Lite, Labatt Blue, Schlitz, Old Style and Hamm’s) and five crafts, mostly local—think Half Acre Daisy Cutter and Hopewell 24:37 on our visit. The bottle and cans list includes a list of dependable beers like Founders porter and Off
CH is the most innovative distillery in Chicago—you just need to look to spirits like aquavit, fernet, limoncello and more to see that. But their focus is on a spirit that many distilleries don't get too excited about—vodka. Try it at the sleek but comfortable tasting room, where it's served ice cold alongside a soft slice of rye bread and two skewered cornichons on a thick wooden board. There's plenty to graze on while you try the spirits too, including charcuterie from West Loop Salumi, mussels and tacos.
Logan is the epicenter of cocktail bars
The neighborhood mostly offers low-key bars, but they're places that pay attention to drinks
Blow off some post-work steam
There are plenty of gems, if you know where to look
Get ready to become a regular at some of the best bars in Humboldt Park
Hyde Park bars range from music venues to dive bars
Some of the city's best bars are here
Sing karaoke, play bar games or relax after work with a craft beer at one of the bars in Lakeview
It's one of the city's greatest concentrations of cocktail bars
These all have a low-key vibe