Cocktails have come a long way from the classic martini. We still love a well-made classic, but in the past several years Chicago bartenders have been elevating mixed drinks to an art form. From tiki bars to a molecular gastronomy lounge to a gin-focused joint, Chicago's best cocktail bars do it all. We wouldn't blame you if you wanted to visit every bar on the list—just don't do it all in one night.
RECOMMENDED: Best bars in Chicago
Best cocktail bars in Chicago
Tiki shows no signs of stopping, and when the drinks are as good as they are at Lost Lake, that's fine by us. The Logan Square tiki bar opened in 2015 when Paul McGee left Three Dots and a Dash to join up with Land and Sea Dept. The result was this cool spot, a little more relaxed than Three Dots, with more interesting drinks. Tried everything on the menu already? Check out the Whisper Menu, with more than 100 new drinks to try.
Veterans of the Whistler and Boiler Room joined together to open this bar. One of the two rooms here looks a lot like the Violet Hour, which makes sense since cocktails (specifically gin cocktails) are a focus of the place. The main room is less lounge-y and truer to what Scofflaw is, which is a top-notch, friendly neighborhood joint.
When Grant Achatz does a cocktail bar, it should go without saying that it's no ordinary cocktail bar. At the Aviary, which opened next door to Next 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. O'Doyle Rules comes with a fried banana snack on top of the rum-curry-cognac concoction.
When restaurateur Danny Meyer and New York’s Dead Rabbit Grocery & Grog team up to open a cocktail bar, it's a big deal. Even bigger: When that bar is on a rooftop in Chicago and Julia Momose (Aviary and Office) is making the drinks. Named for historical Chicago figures, the drinks incorporate unexpected ingredients, like herbal Old Bay tincture in the mezcal-based Diamond Jim. Food from Aaron Lirette rounds out the experience, and the uni spaghetti is a must-order.
This hip 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, like the aquavit-based Coattails, are excellent), pretentious (you won’t find a sign on the door—just look for the long lines) and, ultimately, completely and unarguably gorgeous.
From the outside, this place looks like a gallery (which, technically, it partially is). On the inside, it’s open and loft-like, with a permanent stage set up for weekly live music and performance. But behind the bar, the drink-slingers have perfected the art of the cocktail, skillfully crafting colorful refreshments that pack a punch. One sip and there’s no doubt that despite everything else going on here, the drinks are the reason to stick around.
You come to the Barrelhouse Flat for cocktails—it’s one of the finest drinking establishments in the city, thanks to head bartender Stephen Cole’s list of 70 classics that range from familiar (whiskey sour) to arcane (Jimmie Roosevelt, anyone?) and oft-changing house cocktails. But you stay at the Barrelhouse Flat for the food, namely the headcheese poutine and whatever the daily flavor of popcorn is.
Who would have guessed longtime Trotter's chef Matthias Merges would find his calling checking IDs at the door of a Logan Square bar? Granted, his is not just any bar: Here, beverage director Lee Zaremba creates a cocktail list with original cocktails and twists on classics packed with loads of amari. Though Billy Sunday is squarely a bar, the food is a worthy companion to the drinks: Don't miss any of the snacks in jars.
Located under the Green Door Tavern, the Drifter is a cozy bar from Liz Pearce (Gage, Drawing Room, Aviary), who serves up a rotating selection of cocktails (printed on a tarot card menu). Your order depends on the cards she deals each night, so keep your fingers crossed for the velvety chocolate negroni or South American Mistress, a smooth blend of pisco, vermouth and Fernet, balanced with chocolate liqueur and blackstrap bitters. The space is a former speakeasy and much of the original decor remains; the occasional performances, like a belly dancer, feel right at home amidst the vintage vibe.
The cozy bar on the Evanston side of Howard Street has left a lot of the nonsense of the current cocktail movement behind. This lack of pretense is just one of the charms here. Others include the frosty coupe the well-made Hemingway cocktail comes in and the high-flavor, low-maintenance bar menu. The room is small and warmly lit. The bartenders are friendly and serious. The cocktails are practiced and perfect. But at Ward Eight, none of this is presented as a big, important deal. Here, the spectacle surrounding cocktail culture has been rubbed away, revealing a way of serving drinks that actually feels new.