When summer finally arrives in Chicago, there's no better place to spend a sunny afternoon than in a beer garden. While many of these outdoor drinking locales are known for their scenic patios, some are hiding behind dive bars, in taproom parking lots or on rooftops. Once you've snagged a table, fill up on everything from German food to barbecue while you sip a local craft beer. Find a comfortable spot and settle in for the evening with our guide to the best beer gardens in Chicago.
RECOMMENDED: Beer gardens, rooftop bars and outdoor dining spots in Chicago
Best beer gardens in Chicago
Instead of putting a few tables on the sidewalk in front of this popular Ravenswood bar, the owners of Fountainhead looked to the sky. Head up the stairs inside and you'll emerge on the rooftop beer garden, which boasts its own bar, lots of sunny seating, a few TVs to watch the game on and access to a long list of hard-to-find beers. Naturally, the rooftop gets packed on a warm summer day, but you can always wait for your turn downstairs and enjoy the air-conditioning.
It would take a lush garden verdant with grass and lined with blooming trees to overshadow the gray landscape of Elston Avenue, and that’s exactly what the owners of this old Irish favorite have built. Sequestering relaxed regulars from the harsh world beyond the privacy fences, the prime garden serves as a stellar summer spot for sipping cider, Scotch and beer, including what has to be the most refreshing beer cocktail around, the Snake Bite: Harp lager and cider with a dash of black currant liqueur.
In the summer, Gene's Sausage Shop opens its glorious rooftop and serves canned and draft beer, grilled sausages, potato pancakes and pretzels. The beer is icy cold, the sausages are showstoppers, and the only concern is managing to finagle a table big enough for all of your friends.
While we still love Half Acre's original taproom in Lincoln Square, finding a place to sit in the small bar is usually a challenge. That's not the case at the brewery's new facility on Balmoral Avenue, where there's plenty of seating, both indoors and outside. A beer garden takes over a portion of the location's parking lot, outfitted with picnic tables where you can order from a menu of roasted meats and veggies or kick back with one of the taproom-exclusive brews.
Occupying a small courtyard behind this Andersonville institution, Hopleaf's tree-lined beer garden allows you to sample its lengthy menu of Belgian beers in the sun. Surrounded by brick walls with a goblet of St. Feuillien, a pile of mussels and a cone of frites in front of you, it's easy to imagine that you've momentarily escaped the city and found yourself in a quaint pub in a small European village.
Authentic German biergartens are tough to come by in Chicago, yet this institution has stood the test of time. It could be the spaetzle or the schnitzel, but we think it’s the romance of making your own Munich with a stein of weiss in the open air. While wrought-iron patio tables, wooden privacy fences and pops of bright flowers make for a common but comfortable setting, it’s the beer list that stands out, especially the weiss, or German wheat, options.
There are few more picturesque places to drink outdoors in the West Loop than in Kaiser Tiger's beer garden, which is festooned with lights and features its own bocce court. Drafts from some of the city's best breweries are the main attraction, but you'll no doubt be tempted by the meaty food menu, which features an abundance of bacon-wrapped delicacies (including "the Bomb," a five-pound hunk of beef and pork sausage surrounded by a crispy bacon weave).
Part bar, part music venue, Sleeping Village's expansive menu of 56 beer and cider drafts can be consumed in the bar's cavernous indoor hall or outside in the sunny, picnic table-lined beer garden. The quaint but comfortable outdoor space is open all year, allowing Chicagoans to brave the cold for fresh air come winter.
Back before Lakeview (or much of Chicago, for that matter) gave a rat’s ass about craft beer, Sheffield’s began providing locals with a solid brew education. Today the mission is the same, to turn basic beer drinkers into better beer drinkers and keep the aficionados happy. Under the canopy of massive cottonwood limbs, the side patio feels lush and secluded, all the better for sampling through just about every style of beer known to man (and maybe a plate of barbecue).
We’re almost hesitant to remind you about this tucked-away gem on Logan Square’s Avondale edge, but you don’t win friends by being selfish. The appeal might not be apparent at first glance (the shoebox-size interior is just barely large enough to accommodate a dart board), but the tiny kitchen churns out delicious wings and fried cheesecurds, which can also be enjoyed on a bare-bones patio in back. The close quarters lend a communal feel to the space, so don't be afraid to ask your neighbors for a beer recommendation.
Roscoe Villagers have supported this stalwart for more than 25 years, flocking to the picnic tables in the ivy-draped patio during all four seasons. The heat lamps and plastic enclosures are tucked away for now, making it prime time for patio drinking. Strollers and softballers give way to a wilder bunch of beer geeks late in the night, groups who gather under the stars to debate the merits of dry hopping versus wet hopping.
Find more great bars in Chicago
Chicagoans don't discriminate when it comes to booze: We love guzzling craft beer, fancy cocktails, margaritas by the pitcher and interesting wines. Our city is a drinker's paradise with options that run the gamut—from age-old dives and secret speakeasies to ritzy rooftops and watering holes open till 4am. Consider this your exhaustive guide to Chicago's always-evolving bar scene.