As one of the most densely concentrated areas for restaurants and bars in the city, it's no surprise that some of the best bars in Chicago are located in Wicker Park and Bucktown. Whether you want a cocktail, a craft beer or a total dive bar, here's where to head for a drink in the neighborhood.
RECOMMENDED: Wicker Park and Bucktown guide
The best bars in Wicker Park and Bucktown
At this bar by the owners of Bar DeVille, “bangers” stand for sausage (we dig the Chicago-style Vienna Beef over the fancier brat sandwiches), and “lace” for “Brussels lace,” i.e., beer foam on the edge of a glass. The stellar draft selection, two-ounce sample options and knowledgeable staff draw in a mix of beer geeks and neighborhood clientele.
Hipsters, yuppies, freaks, dirty old men and bluegrass bands used to pack this beloved corner tap, which changed ownership in 2011 and underwent a bit of a personality shift. Darker, sleeker and with more focus on DJs with underground cred, the Charleston has morphed into quite a scene. The newer Bucktown residents are happy as clams, plunking down tens for Moscow mules, while those dirty old men have shuffled off to find the few remaining dives nearby.
The Bucktown favorite has a line on Friday and Saturday nights that’s worth the wait. Half bar and half apartment, the space will make you nostalgic for the house parties of your college days, if you aren’t still living them. Grab a glass of whiskey or dirt-cheap PBR and elbow your way into the crowd packed wall-to-wall with hipsters. Rotating DJs play everything from throwback 80’s hip-hop to Brazilian samba, and there are plenty of dark candlelit corners to canoodle in if you hit it off with someone on the dance floor.
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.
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 otherwise oft-pretentious 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 over some tasty late-night bar eats, served till 3am.
This craft beer-and-sausage themed bar took over the former Bin 36 space, and there’s not a hint left of the original wine bar among the sleek wooden tables and huge TVs lining the room. A pair of gigantic screens display the current tap list and statistics for beer left in each keg, in case you might miss out on the last dregs of a rare pour. With a local-heavy selection, there’s a draft for everyone, and five wines on tap if beer isn’t your thing. The food menu is composed of classic bar snacks and a selection of house-made sausages, like cheese curds, deep fried in a light tempura batter, and a juicy steak and ale sausage.
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 a more low-key drinker but like the vibe, stop by in the a.m. when the Map Room functions as a coffeehouse.
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.
The low-key bar, decorated with Oriental rugs, a fox head and rounded burgundy leather booths, is a comfortable spot for a strong selection of draft and canned beers and approachable cocktails, like Gold Bullets & Vampires, a gin cocktail mixed with apricot cordial and Vander Mill Totally Roasted Cider, a sweetly spiced drink that manages to still be refreshing.
This 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, though lately the no-phones policy has relaxed) and, ultimately, completely and unarguably gorgeous.
Some nights, it might just be you and the bartender at this wood-paneled relic; you pour your heart out, while they pour vodka drinks with a heavy hand. 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.