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Photograph: Pantyhoze

The 40 absolute best bars in Chicago

Raise your brown-bagged Malört bottle to the best damn watering holes in Chicago

By Morgan Olsen
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March 2020: Whether you're a beer nerd, a wine snob or a cocktail fiend, there's something on the latest iteration of the DRINK List for you. Additions include a mix of timeless establishments (think the Map Room, Jeffery Pub and Weegee's Lounge) and newcomers worth their salt (like Lazy Bird, Kumiko and Outside Voices). Raise a glass to best bars in Chicago.

We'd like to propose a toast to the selfless folks who give up their nights and weekends to stand behind the best bars in Chicago—the DRINK List wouldn't be possible without you. And to the Chicagoans who rack up tabs at said watering holes, this one's for you, too. This expansive list catalogs our all-time favorite bars around town—from beloved Chicago breweries and grungy, lived-in dives to the finest cocktail bars Chicago has to offer. In a city that's packed with places to belly up and have a drink, these spots shine extra bright and boozy. Take a look at the best bars in Chicago and plan your next night out accordingly.

Drank somewhere on this list and loved it? Share it with the hashtag #TimeOutDrinkList. You can also find out more about how Time Out makes recommendations and reviews bars here.

Best of the city under one roof

Photograph: Jack X. Li

Secret Sound

Restaurants West Loop

We love the tropical cocktails at Lost Lake so much that we asked co-owners Shelby Allison and Paul McGee to open their own bar inside Time Out Market Chicago (which is why you won't find them on the list below). The hidden cocktail counter specializes in rum-soaked tipples that will transport you to a faraway island. After your first sip, you’ll understand exactly how McGee and Allison won the title of Best Cocktail Bar in America from the discerning Tales of the Cocktail as well as Bar of the Year at Time Out Chicago’s 2018 Bar Awards.

Time Out Market Bar, Chicago
Photograph: Jack Li

Time Out Market Bar

Bars West Loop

Chicago, we know you're thirsty, which is why we put a bar on every floor of the Market in addition to our secret speakeasy from Lost Lake co-owners. The editorially curated beverage program features inspired libations created by leading mixologists at Arbella, Best Intentions, Billy Sunday and Flora Fauna. Plus, beverage director Jonathan Kahn dreamed up a roster of sippers inspired by Chicago markets past and present, like the CH Vodka-based Green City Bazaar with carrot juice and turmeric-ginger-pineapple tea syrup. He rounds out the menu with top-rated wines and a selection of Chicago-made brews from the likes of Pipeworks, Cruz Blanca and Moody Tongue.

Best bars in Chicago

Doris at The Sixth in Ravenswood
Photograph: Jason Little

36. The Sixth

Bars Cocktail bars Lincoln Square

The folks behind the bar at this Lincoln Square cocktail den must have been scientists in a past life. The awe-inspiring, gravity-defying drinks on offer include options like the mezcal-based Nevermore, which is cooled off with a giant ice cube with a fresh flower frozen inside. Though just about everything on the menu is highly Instagrammable, it's all rooted in substance, seriously cocktailing and excellent ingredients. So snap your pic, put away your phone and lose yourself in these mind-blowing drinks.

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Optimo at The Victor in North Center.
Photograph: Jason Little

37. The Victor Bar

Bars Cocktail bars North Center

Once your eyes adjust to the dim, sultry lighting inside this North Side spot, you'll realize the Victor Bar is your new ideal date-night destination. Sexy environs? Check. Excellent cocktails? Check, check. Easy access to the bus and train so you don't have to splurge on an Uber home? Big ole check. For one last drink before you close out, consider the trio of old-fashioneds that are always available, in bourbon, rye and mezcal. Cheers!

Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

38. The Drifter

Bars Lounges River North

When we need a break from the city’s repetitive cocktail lounges, we descend into the basement of Green Door Tavern to grab a drink at this secret speakeasy. Owner Liz Pearce has more than 100 funky cocktails that are described on custom tarot cards. Each night, the team selects a handful of cards from the deck, allowing for a wildly different experience with each visit.

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Clayton Hauck for Lonesome Rose
Photograph: Clayton Hauck

39. Golden Teardrops

Bars Logan Square

This mysterious Logan Square booze den stands in stark contrast to Chicago’s plethora of bright, Instagram-friendly bars. Guests enter the room through an alley and descend a staircase to find the 40-seat interior. The jolting focal point of the dimly lit bar is a neon sign that reads "Weddings & Funerals." Put away your phone (service is no good here, anyway) and order from a menu of lesser-known classic cocktails as you sink into the sultry space.

skylark
Photo: Erica Gannett

40. Skylark

Bars Dive bars Lower West Side

This speakeasy-esque space—a vacuous room, lined with booths and sprinkled with tables and chairs—is a nightly respite for local artists. The tater tots and mac and cheese are greasy must-haves, and you should wash ’em down with $5 draft beers from the likes of Half Acre, Maplewood and Off Color. Visit on Mondays to enjoy live music from the Ratchet Series for a suggested $5 donation.

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