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Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

The 42 absolute best bars in Chicago

Raise your shot glass of Malört to the best damn watering holes in Chicago

Written by
Morgan Olsen
Contributors
Zach Long
&
Emma Krupp
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August 2021: After a year that was particularly rough for dives, taprooms and cocktail bars, the latest update to Time Out Chicago's DRINK List has finally arrived. We're happy to report that classic spots like Scofflaw and Old Town Ale House are still alive and well, but we're even more overjoyed to add some fresh drinking destinations to the mix. Pull up a seat at taprooms (Life on Marz Community Club, Whiner Beer Co.), spots for sipping natural wine (All Together Now, Easy Does It) and cocktail bars (Bokeh, Osito's Tap) throughout the city. Raise a glass to the best bars in Chicago!

In a city where faded Old Style signs swing outside of beloved dive bars and lines snake around the block at trendy cocktail lounges, the best bars in Chicago act as meeting places, date locales and venues for celebrations. With so many great places to grab a beverage, our list of our all-time favorite bars around town is expansive—and inclusive of taprooms at Chicago breweries, wine bars uncorking bottles of red and white as well as the finest cocktail bars Chicago has to offer. In a city that's packed with places to belly up and have a drink, these watering holes shine extra bright and boozy. Take a look at the best bars in Chicago and find the perfect destination for your next night out.

Best of the city under one roof

  • Bars
  • West Loop

Chicago, we know you're thirsty, which is why we put a bar on every floor of Time Out Market Chicago. The main bar—located on the first floor, as soon as you walk in—is also the largest in the building. Beverage director Jonathan Kahn curates seasonal lineups of thirst-quenching craft cocktails that incorporate local spirits from makers like CH Distillery and Apologue. Expect vibrant and fun flavors at every turn, from housemade lavender cola and activated charcoal to hibiscus salt and coconut liqueur. Kahn rounds out the menu with top-rated wines and a selection of Chicago-made brews from the likes of Metropolitan Brewing, Moody Tongue and Off Color Brewing.

  • Bars
  • West Loop

Named for Time Out founder Tony Elliott, Tony’s is the crown jewel of Time Out Market Chicago. The cozy all-season rooftop bar is decorated in vintage Time Out London covers, twinkling lights and handsome wood beams that stretch the length of the room. The space is anchored by a sprawling bar that serves a curated selection of wines, beers and signature cocktails. If the sun is shining, wander outside to take in skyline views (you can easily peep some architectural gems from here).

Best bars in Chicago

  • Bars
  • West Loop

This dimly lit, seriously sexy rathskeller beneath the Hoxton hotel is a great bet for those nights when you want to go somewhere where no one knows your name. The deal is sweetened by a pièce de résistance of a cocktail menu that includes 52 retooled and perfected standards. The Negroni, for instance, mimics the flavor of vintage Campari with a top-secret mixture of bitters, achieving an exquisitely balanced, time-traveling tipple. Whether you want something familiar or a out of the ordinary, you'll find no shortage of options here.

  • Bars
  • Lounges
  • Logan Square
  • price 2 of 4

Though the hand-drawn menu at this Logan Square gin joint changes with the seasons, every iteration includes a glossary of unfamiliar ingredients, like zucca (smoky amaro) and baijiu (a pineapple-flavored spirit from China). That humble mentality permeates the space, too, guaranteeing a welcoming, inclusive experience every time. The menu is limited to charcuterie for now, but you can still snag freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies if you happen to be sitting in the bar at midnight.

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  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • West Loop
  • price 3 of 4

When a regular ol’ G&T simply won’t do, Julia Momose is waiting with splurge-worthy concoctions. Arranged from bright and light to spirituous closers, the drinks here are chock-full of ingredients that reflect Momose’s Japanese heritage, including rice vodka, green-tea shochu and plum saké. The environs are equally intimate, with a bar that offers a peek into the kitchen where chef Noah Sandoval whips up Kusshi oysters, truffle-topped milk bread and other luxurious snacks. Walk-ins are always welcome, but space at Kimiko is limited, so you may want to lock down a reservation before your visit.

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • South Lawndale

Located in the back of Moreno’s Liquors—a destination for hard-to-find tequila and mezcal in Little Village for more than 40 years—this lofty speakeasy leans into its locale with a robust selection of agave-focused cocktails spiked with ingredients like ancho chile and jamaica, plus an impressive draft beer list to boot. Look for a neon Chihuahua sign at the back of the liquor store (that’s the likeness of Osito, the bar’s namesake) and slide into high-backed booths in the bar’s historic interior, or grab seats on the patio and soak up the sunshine.

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  • Shopping
  • Liquor stores
  • Avondale
  • price 2 of 4

True to its name, The Beer Temple is a sanctuary for craft-brew lovers, complete with a spacious taproom where visitors can have a drink and a bottle shop stocked with plenty of interesting brews. Kegs from local, national and international breweries regularly join the menu at the bar (and are sometimes depleted in the course of any evening), so you're likely to find at least a few new selections every time you visit. Not a fan of the latest double IPAs and barrel-aged pastry stouts? Don't worry, this place has cans of Hamm's and shots of Malört, too.

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Zach Long
Editor, Time Out Chicago
  • Bars
  • Dive bars
  • Ukrainian Village
  • price 2 of 4

Thanks to a funky, taxidermy-dotted interior, a sprawling backyard patio and excellent drinks, this drinkery attracts folks from far beyond Humboldt Park’s borders. The Low Life—a High Life plus a shot of bourbon, Malört, Fernet-Branca or a house blend of amaro—is just $6. Come summertime, the bar invites Chicago’s top chefs to host cookouts on the patio every Sunday afternoon—$20 gets you a heaping plate of food and a drink.

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  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Uptown
  • price 2 of 4

In the 1920s, Al Capone and other nefarious gangsters used to sidle up to this very bar, but these days it’s all about the music (and the satisfyingly stiff, old-school cocktails). Owner Dave Jemilo, who returned the club to its original luster in the 1980s, books smart bebop, swing and free jazz every night of the week, so expect to pay a cash-only cover at the door. A candle-topped table up front puts you at the center of the action, but the plush, emerald-hued booths are the best seats in the house.

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Wicker Park
  • price 3 of 4

When it opened in 2007, the Violet Hour was a pioneer of Chicago’s craft-cocktail renaissance, introducing us to well-built classics, house-made syrups and hand-carved ice cubes. Today, the hushed speakeasy still sets the pace, mixing perfect old-fashioneds and Manhattans alongside groundbreaking new concoctions that use only the finest ingredients. Plus, the bar's notorious "no phones" policy has recently been relaxed to allow for texting and picture-taking—you'll just need to step outside if you're taking a call.

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Cove Lounge
  • Bars
  • Dive bars
  • Hyde Park
  • price 1 of 4

At this lovable, red-carpeted Hyde Park haunt, you’re greeted by a sprawling mural of a younger Barack Obama, backed by Chicago’s famous skyline. On any given night, a nice mix of University of Chicago students and blue-collar workers sip PBR tall boys and play darts in total harmony amid the picnic tables. It may not have an Old Style sign swinging from its facade, but the Cove is a classic Chicago dive.

  • Restaurants
  • American creative
  • River West/West Town
  • price 1 of 4

All Together Now bills itself as a cafe (which is true; pop in at brunchtime for coffee and egg sandwiches, plus bagels on the weekends), but we prefer to sidle up to a window-facing bar stool or patio table in the evening for locally-sourced charcuterie plates and natural wine by the bottle or glass. Don’t leave without perusing the miniature grocery and bottle shop, which is stocked with splurge-y kitchen treasures—think tinned fish, homemade granola and hunks of funky cheeses—and a lean-yet-sophisticated selection of wine.

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  • Bars
  • Avondale

Equal parts beer bar and music venue, Sleeping Village offers a dynamic lineup of cheap (sometimes free) shows from locals acts and touring bands, with the occasional comedy gig tossed in for good measure. A projector displays a laundry list of beers on a wall near the bar, and bartenders pour everything from mead and hard kombucha to the latest IPA from Marz Community Brewing Co. During the summer, you'll likely to have to wait your turn for one of the picnic tables on the patio to clear out.

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Avondale
  • price 2 of 4

When Lost Lake opened, it was billed as a "tiki bar," with all of the tropical decor, rum-forward drinks and colorful garnishes you'd expect. But co-owners Paul McGee and Shelby Allison have since sought to distance Lost Lake from ts original theme, acknowledging the cultural appropriation that's inherent in the asthetic of establishments that serve Mai Tais and play Hawaiian music on their soundsystems. The island vibes and many signature cocktails (including the Tic Tac Taxi, made with rum, coconut, passionfruit and lime) remain intact, but when Lost Lake reopens its indoor space later this year, there will likely be some new items hanging on the walls and an updated playlist to enjoy while you sip your beautifully-garnished beverage. For now, you can enjoy cocktails to-go from a window in front of the Logan Square bar.

https://media.timeout.com/images/105800431/image.jpg
Zach Long
Editor, Time Out Chicago
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  • Bars
  • Beer bars
  • Uptown
  • price 2 of 4

A formidable list of craft beers and European imports dominates this sprawling two-story spot with multiple bars. It’s an Andersonville staple, pouring local and international brews, both on draft and in bottles or cans. The bar has special tappings and charity kegs, so be on the lookout as you peruse the 60-plus drafts—if you see a rarity, be sure to snag it. There’s also an encyclopedic bottle list, plus a handful of wines on draft if, for some insane reason, you can’t find anything frothy to fit your fancy.

  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Lower West Side

Take in the sights and sounds of 18th Street with a Lotería-themed cocktail in hand at this Pilsen bar and restaurant, which opens the garage door on its upper level when the weather’s nice. Start the night with plates of tacos and quesabirria for dinner before making your way downstairs to La Sala, the moody subterranean mezcal lounge stocked with antique board games and a shuffleboard, for pours of smooth-sipping agave. 

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  • Bars
  • Dive bars
  • Sheffield & DePaul
  • price 2 of 4

No Chicagoan’s bar bucket list is complete without a vist to Mike Miller’s no-bullshit establishment, which is known for its extensive collection of whiskey and beer as well as its nightly DJ sets—everything from metal to ska (the good kind) and R&B—and VHS tape screenings. Miller holds court at the nearly three-decade-old bar, which is decorated with red Christmas lights, obscure works from local artists, a well-loved pool table and a pinball machine. If the more than 800 options on the whiskey list are too intimidating, don't be afraid to ask the bartender for a recommendation.

  • Bars
  • Dive bars
  • Ukrainian Village
  • price 1 of 4

Situated near a stretch of Ukrainian Village that constantly churns out shiny, new bars and restaurants, Rainbo Club is an incorruptible constant. The L-shaped neon sign beckons from blocks away, pulling patrons into the no-frills environment to down a can of something cheap and a shot of something strong in its coveted red booths. There’s no food here—if there were, you wouldn’t want it—but the Tamale Guy makes regular appearances to pad the bellies of late-night revelers.

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  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • River West/West Town
  • price 2 of 4

The Silver Palm (Chicago's only restaurant in railcar) remains closed, sadly, but the adjacent Matchbox is still serving a menu of classic cocktails. As its name suggests, this boxcar bar can feel a bit cramped, but come spring, the sidewalk patio practically doubles the capacity. No matter the season, though, the house margarita hits the spot: Crafted with top-shelf liquors, fresh-squeezed lemon and lime juices, it’s served in a glass that’s rimmed with powdered sugar. Delish.

  • Bars
  • Breweries
  • Irving Park

There are just a few cideries located in Chicago, but Eris Brewery and Cider House is easily the most beautiful of the bunch, housed in a retrofitted church that dates back more than a century. Snag a seat at a sleek booth in the two-level space (or outdoors on a parking lot patio) and sample some of the house ciders, which range from crisp, dry selection to sweeter options blended with cherry or cranberry juice. The kitchen serves a formidable menu of pub grub, including fried cheese curds, burgers topped with bacon jam and spanakopita grilled cheese sandwiches. And if you're not a fan of cider, Eris brews beer, too! Make sure to try the award-winning Foiken Haze IPA if it's on tap.

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  • Bars
  • Lounges
  • West Loop
  • price 3 of 4

The Alinea family’s drunkest member serves cocktails with a side of whimsy. Though the menu descriptions don’t give much away—it’s better that way, trust us—each drink is a mini science experiment that defies gravity and blows minds. The layered Jungle Bird boasts rum-soaked jelly balls that burst in your mouth, while the crowd-pleasing Loaded to the Gunwalls is served in a bottle with a ship inside. You'll need a reservation (accompanied by a deposit, which is applied to your bill) to drink here, so plan ahead!

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Ukrainian Village
  • price 2 of 4

Named in honor of building owner and former bar maven Mary Kafka, Queen Mary Tavern is a self-proclaimed time capsule that introduces modern-day imbibers to the old-time drinking traditions of sailors. Set down an anchor and stay for a glass or two of the Daily Grog, a rotating punch that's garnished with fresh citrus and just enough spice to thaw your weary bones. You'll also find Pimm's by the Pitcher (enough for 4-6 drinkers), a selection of fortified wines and tinned seafood conservas accompanied by crackers for snacking.

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  • Bars
  • Albany Park

This Albany Park lounge takes its name from a photography term for the dreamy, out-of-focus look achieved by fast-moving lenses, and its interior—all dim lights, sleek furniture and brick walls—offers a similarly sexy aesthetic. Cocktails rotate based on the season, but the core menu favors bold and vegetal spirits; the signature Bokeh cocktail, for example, uses Fernet and cardamom to enliven a traditional sour, while the martini-like Still Life (this place loves a good photography reference) introduces grassy notes with cacti and the Mexican spirit Sotol.

  • Bars
  • Breweries
  • New City

Don't come to the Whiner Beer Co. expecting extremely bitter IPAs or hefty stouts—co-founders Brian Taylor and Ria Neri are more interested in barrel-aged Belgian-style beers and hard kombucha. Ask for a taste of Whiner's signature Le Tub (a blended barrel-aged wild saison) and you'll have an idea of just how funky the brews can get at Whiner's taproom, which is housed inside the Plant, a nonprofit net-zero energy food production space situated in an old warehouse in the Back of Yards neighborhood. Grab a seat at a table with a built-in planter while you enjoy your beer—and order a 14-inch sourdough crust pie from in-house pizzeria Le Pizza, if you're feeling peckish.

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  • Bars
  • Dive bars
  • River West/West Town
  • price 1 of 4

Once known primarily as a ramshackle country-rock roadhouse in an industrial stretch of the city, the Hideout has become a place where new musicians, veteran performers and outspoken personalities of all stripes dominate the stage. It can be difficult to reach this out-of-the-way spot by public transportation, but it’s worth the trip for the cheap beer, fresh sounds and DJs dropping nostalgia, from Prince to Devo. Currently, all Hideout events are taking place on its porch patio, but we look forward to returning to the cramped confines of its indoor bar when it's safe to do so.

  • Bars
  • Pubs
  • Bridgeport
  • price 2 of 4

Brothers Ed and Mike Marszewski and his brother remodeled and renamed Kaplan’s Liquors, the Bridgeport bar that was owned and operated since 1986 by their mother, Maria. The chandeliers built out of bottles and the 300-plus microbrews are notable, but the real standout feature is the welcoming scene: People like each other here. You can grab a bite to eat (and find even more tables) next door at Kimski, which serves Polish-Korean fusion dishes.

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  • Bars
  • Beer bars
  • Bucktown
  • price 1 of 4

If the cartography, flags and copious copies of National Geographic didn’t tip you off, this Bucktown bar honors wanderlust, and it has a beer list to match. In the morning, the Map Room is a café that serves lattes and cortados, but, come sunset, the regulars hunker down to travel the world through suds, hopping from Chicago to Germany to Quebec. Stop in on a weekday to enjoy discounts on beer from various regions of the world (and dig into some complimentary meats and cheeses on Mondays and Tuesdays).

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • River West/West Town

Unlike some of the flashier cocktail bars on our list, drinks at this jewel-toned River West hangout are elegant but unfussy, consisting of a mostly-pronounceable list of ingredients (like the 99% Yes, a bourbon, amaro, blackcurrant and elderflower concoction that hits just the right notes of floral and savory). Come summer, nab a seat at the bar’s expansive patio studded with trees, flowers and punchy murals, where you’ll often find live music on the weekends.

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  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • River North
  • price 2 of 4

You'll find the not-so-secret entrance to this subterranean tiki bar in an alley east of Clark Street, between Hubbard and Illinois streets. Once your eyes have adjusted to the dark interior, you'll notice the colorful drinks parading around the room: The cocktails here are served in tiki glassware and accented with fresh flowers, colorful straws and skewers of fruit. Nudge your way to the crowded bar to try classics like the Painkiller, with Caribbean rum, tangerine, pineapple and coconut—it goes down a little too easy after a long day.

  • Bars
  • Wine bars
  • Logan Square

You don’t have to know the difference between cheverny and chardonnay to feel right at home at this vino bar that feels like a broken-in neighborhood hangout. Though the menu offers easy-to-understand descriptions of 20 or so natural, low-intervention pours, it’s best to lean on your server for a quality rec: These funky wines are more unpredictable than the stuff at your corner liquor store.

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  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary American
  • Loop
  • price 3 of 4

Whenever we want to impress out-of-towners, we book a table at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel’s rooftop bar, from which Millennium Park, Lake Michigan and the city skyline are on glorious display. The drink lineup complements the vistas with easy-sipping selections that are best enjoyed in the sun—like Stoop Hangs, made with three types of pineapple spirits (pineapple cordial, pineapple brandy and vodka distilled from pineapples) along with orgeat, lemon and artful sprigs of tarragon. As a bonus, the spirit-free menu rocks, offering bold, wildly creative quaffs.

  • Bars
  • Breweries
  • Logan Square

Building on the success of its Bridgeport outpost, Marz Community Brewing's latest taproom sits between Logan Square and Bucktown, taking up residence in the same building that houses the Margie's Candies ice cream parlor and the Snakes & Lattes board game café. Dubbed the Life on Marz Community Club, the space is a bit smaller than the original Bridgeport taproom, but it's decor is as stylish as the art that graces the brewery's various beer cans. Dangling lights and multi-colored walls complement a cooler stocked with cans of Marz creations and taps pouring drafts (including a few exclusive brews). If you need a snack while you knock back some hazy IPAs and Chug Life lagers, you'll find a menu of sausages featuring selections from Bridgeport's own Makowski's Real Sausage.

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  • Bars
  • Pubs
  • South Shore
  • price 2 of 4

The city's only black-owned gay bar has been holding it down in South Shore since the 1960s. On a recent visit, we watched the crowd groove to hip-hop and house while also chatting and canoodling on the sidelines. Swing by on the weekends for DJ nights and dance parties that go until the early hours of the morning. 

  • Bars
  • Lounges
  • Avondale
  • price 1 of 4

Only in Chicago is the name Alice synonymous with raucous late-night karaoke. Don’t come expecting to sing more than one song on a busy night—the regulars rule the mic here, but the majority of them are pretty entertaining to watch. Plus, after a few beers (and a shot or two) you’ll be yelling along to most of the lyrics anyways.

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  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Lower West Side
  • price 2 of 4

Below Dusek’s Board & Beer, this ’70s-themed bar is decorated with a fish tank and yards of wood paneling—think of it as a deluxe version of your grandparents’ basement. Like its name suggests, punch is the main draw here, and you can order most cocktails by the glass, carafe or bowl. The tequila-based Space Juice for Jered has been a mainstay since Day One for good reason, with a satisfying mix of grapefruit, lime and sparkling wine.

  • Bars
  • Wine bars
  • Logan Square

Late-night spot East Room closed back in 2019, but co-owner Zack Eastman (Dorian's, Saved by the Max) has resurrected the space as a bar and bottle shop with a sprawling back patio where you can sip pét-nats and rosé beneath shade canopies by the Blue Line. Appropriately named Easy Does It, the storefront is a casual, laid-back shop where folks can stock up on natural wines, local beers and liquor. A virtual marketplace makes it easy to browse a slew of wines you've probably never heard of, each of which are marked with fun, approachable tasting notes. And when the temperatures drop, the drinking moves indoors to a second floor bar with open seating and plenty of room for events like wine tastings and DJ sets.

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  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Lower West Side

Try searching for “The Alderman Chicago” online and you’ll be lost in a sea of city websites—and maybe that’s intentional. This 16-seat speakeasy-style bar, tucked away in an inky black side room of Pilsen Yards, offers an intimate hideaway for sipping your way through beverage director Lance Bowman’s sophisticated cocktail menu, plus a long list of spirit pours. A word to the wise: Don’t show up without a reservation, especially on the weekends.

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