Best West Loop bars
When Grant Achatz does a cocktail bar, it should go without saying that it's no ordinary cocktail bar. At the Aviary, which opened 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. You've never seen a drink like it, and given how rare a visit to the Aviary is, you may never again.
If it's wine and charcuterie you crave, let the Press Room be your beacon. This subterranean wine bar is located beneath West Loop bed and breakfast the Publishing House, but you needn't be a guest to drop by. Expect interesting, globe-trotting pours available by the glass and bottle, a small cocktail list and a menu of small plates that shouldn't be missed. If you want to take the guesswork out of it, ask the friendly staff to point you toward a delicious red and order the chocolate cremeux, a delicate chocolate pudding that's studded with sesame crisp and cocoa crumble.
What this tiny bar lacks in size, it makes up for in personality. Situated on the mezzanine level of Soho House Chicago, Fox Bar is a cozy late-night watering hole with a focus on vinyl and no-nonsense bartending. (And no, you don't have to be a member to check it out.) Between the entrance and the bottle-lined bar, you'll find oversized chairs along the walls and a long communal table in the middle of the room. The menu here is always changing, but look out for seasonal ingredients and playful spirits, like brown butter-washed cognac and rhubarb-infused aperol. The prices are right and the service is unparalleled, making Fox Bar a loveable neighborhood favorite.
Doing its part to keep the West Loop from succumbing to all the glitz and glamour of Randolph Street is this good-natured, low-key tavern, which carries upwards of 100 beers, including Rochefort 10 and Unibroue La Fin Du Monde. Don’t have a clue what that means? Ask the beer-geek bartenders and they’re happy to explain (just don’t ask during Sunday afternoon football).
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 its 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. If you prefer cocktails, they have classics plus a signature selection with creations like Rosemary's Baby with CH peppercorn vodka, lemon and rosemary. There's plenty to graze on while you try the spirits too, including grilled cheese with sharp cheddar and Parmesan, gin-poached shrimp scampi and chocolate-dipped rice crispy treats.
Though it dubs itself "just a bar," there's way more to Moneygun than meets the eye. Located on the east side of the Kennedy Expressway, this West Loop spot specializes in classic cocktails—31 to be exact. Sip sidecars, cosmopolitans, mojitos, negronis and martinis for $10.75 each, which is a steal when you consider the bar team is using house-made syrups, sodas and elixirs to craft perfectly balanced sippers. Additional perks: old-school hip-hop music, buttery grilled oysters and addictive Adobo corn nuts. What's not to love?
There aren't as many rooftop bars in the West Loop as there are in the Loop, but the Ace Hotel is home to one of the finest western views of the city skyline. The seventh-floor space has a small outdoor terrace as well as a covered lounge, making it an accessible destination throughout the year. Choose from a small collection of bites (guac, stuffed mushrooms, a burger) while sipping craft cocktails like the Bird's Eye, a satisfying blend of bourbon, grapefruit, raspberry, sweet vermouth and Angostura bitters. On Monday nights, enjoy the $6 happy hour menu, which includes beer and a shot, classic cocktails and the Waydown Burger.
When we heard about a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired cocktail bar moving into the West Loop neighborhood, we had a lot of questions. As it turns out, the Chicago architect is a fantastic inspiration. The bar's interior is outfitted in blonde rock, bits of stained glass and handsome beams. The cocktails here are equally thoughtful, though a bit pricey for the neighborhood. Organized from light to booze-forward, the menu offers plenty of balanced sippers like the King Kamehameha with rum, wild mountain tea, lemon juice and maple syrup.
There’s no denying the cool factor of walking through a barbershop to reach a secret backroom bar. Blind Barber, with outposts in L.A. and NYC, landed in Chicago in 2017, offering trims and cuts by day and a raucous good time by night. Though uncomfortably packed on a Saturday evening, the place is ideal for big groups, which are seated at reserved tables along the perimeter of the room (just be sure to make a reservation). The house cocktails are phenomenally balanced, and the massive selection of grilled cheese sandwiches (14 total!) makes for excellent drunk food. Yeah, we’ll be back.
With straightforward cocktails and a strong selection of beers, you'll probably wind up going to Lone Wolf quite a bit, thanks to its location among the top restaurants in the city. If you need to wait at Girl & the Goat or Au Cheval, put your name in then head here for a drink. If it's nice, sit at the small patio out front, while there's plenty of cozy bar seating for the rest of the year. With a menu of fries and artisanal hot dogs, you might be inclined to skip your other dinner plans and just eat here.
You enter through an unmarked alleyway, glowing strings of lights leading you to a cobblestone courtyard and ornate parlor that resembles a Parisian hideaway. You forget where you are. You order glasses of champagne you’ve never heard of, you gently unhinge oysters from their shells, and when dessert comes, your selection is plucked from a fanciful cart, replete with bite-size macarons and cakes and meringues. Heaven? Who needs it when there’s RM?