Best cocktail bars in Chicago

The best cocktail bars in the city serve everything from classics to drinks served in a ship in a bottle

Photograph: Jessica Lynn CapronThe Aviary

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

1

Lost Lake

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.

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Avondale
2

Scofflaw

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 placeThe main room is less lounge-y and truer to what Scofflaw is, which is a top-notch, friendly neighborhood joint.

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Logan Square
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3

The Aviary

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.

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West Loop
4

The Ladies’ Room

If you're beginning to feel like you've seen everything Chicago's bar scene has to offer, head to the Ladies' Room to rediscover your senses. The tiny, red-lit space inside Fat Rice in Logan Square offers some of the most intricate, imaginative cocktails we've ever encountered. One look at the global-inspired menu and you'll see why: The bar crafts many of its own syrups, shrubs and bitters. If you're looking to go all in, spring for the $280 Grande Royale, a mix of champagne, cassis, cognac, house campari, palm sugar and camo bitters. For a more low-key evening, go with the Dr. Manhattan, which features ghost pepper and the bar's take on Dr. Pepper ingredients. 

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Logan Square
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5

GreenRiver

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. Named for historical Chicago figures, the drinks incorporate unexpected ingredients like coriander seed and juniper berry in Tuckpoint. Decadent, beautifully plated food rounds out the experience, and the uni spaghetti is a must-order.

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Streeterville
6

Best Intentions

Back in 2015, brothers Chris and Calvin Marty bought the old Marble Bar and reopened it as Best Intentions. The dive bar charm remains, though the bar is a touch sleeker and the drinks are much better. When the weather agrees, the backyard patio is the perfect place to lounge and sip an ice-cold Wondermint malted shake (mint liqueur, gin and Luxardo hazelnut). Inside, the dimly lit bar serves excellent classic cocktails in an unassuming setting; we're big fans of the gimlet and lesser-known Bobby Burns. But perhaps what we admire most about Best Intentions is its ability to nail the neo-dive vibe without feeling forced.

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Logan Square
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7

The Violet Hour

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.

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Wicker Park
8

Estereo

This all-day bar from Heisler Hospitality (Pub Royale, Sportsman’s Club, Queen Mary Tavern) has a “leave your worries at the door” vibe that transports its visitors to a breezy island somewhere far, far away. Fix your gaze on the menu board at the front of the space, which features a rotating selection of seasonal drinks organized by liquor: pisco, mescal, tequila, rum, agricole and more. Each base spirit is gussied up with fruity flavors like Klug Farm blueberries and strawberries, grapefruit bitters and ground cherry-infused singani.

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Logan Square
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9

The Whistler

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.

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Logan Square
10

The Barrelhouse Flat

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 ’70s 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 poutine and whatever the daily flavor of popcorn is.

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Sheffield & DePaul
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11

Moneygun

If classic cocktails and ’90s hip-hop are your jam, Moneygun might just be your dream bar. The small, dark space features all the originals—from mojitos and mai tais to sidecars and sazeracs. Every drink involves a perfected recipe and quality, often house-made ingredients. Balance out the booze with unexpected bar snacks like fried smelts with chimichurri aioli or the beef tartare with foie torchon, celery root, cocoa nibs and rye bread.  

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West Loop
12

Billy Sunday

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 Stephanie Andrews creates a menu 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.

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Logan Square
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13

The Drifter

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.

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River North
14

Punch House

Located below Dusek’s Board & Beer, this dark, ’70s-themed bar is decorated with a fish tank, wood paneling and a huge fish on the wall. Think of it as an upgraded, boozy 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. Whether you go big or small, you'll experience the genius and precision happening behind the bar at Punch House. If you're looking for a good place to start, order Space Juice for Jered, a blend of tequila, grapefruit, lime, Luxardo bitters, black pepper, sparkling wine and sage. After a few glasses, you'll be ready to head upstairs to piano bar Tack Room. 

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Lower West Side
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15

Ward Eight

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.

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Evanston
16

The Sixth

Beverage director Benjamin Schiller (Fifty/50 Group) conceived some well-crafted drinks that balance whimsy with familiarity. Take the Silly Rabbit, a gin-based drink with flavored (and colored) ice cubes presented in a highball and a carafe, to pour the cocktail over the ice and watch the colors slowly change—it’s tart and citrusy, despite colors that could tip it off as sugary. One of our favorites is the Spaceman Spiff—served in the top of a martini glass set inside a small fishbowl decorated as a terrarium, with swirls of cedar smoke for aromatics.

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Lincoln Square
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17

Sable Kitchen & Bar

The bar is the main draw at Sable, where bartenders turn out excellent cocktails, including lively Spanish gin and tonics garnished with fruit and herbs. The food menu is a nice match, with snacks, seafood, roasted bone marrow and a burger.

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River North
18

Queen Mary Tavern

At Queen Mary Tavern, the cocktail menu stays true to the theme—rum, gin and Scotch abound—while using unexpected ingredients and offering sophisticated flavor profiles. Heavy Soul combines Lustau Fino Sherry, rum, St. George Green Chile Vodka and peach bitters while Spanish Ladies pairs pineapple rum, lemon, tamarind masala and sherry with whipped coconaut milk.

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Ukrainian Village
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19

The Heavy Feather

We weren't around to bar hop through the ’70s, but we're pretty sure the drinks were not quite as good as Heavy Feather bartender Doug Phillips (Scofflaw) makes them seem. At the sleek fern bar, Phillips brings back cocktails from the era and greatly improves upon them. With choices like a Fantasy Island, The Bunny Man and Mudslide ice cream drink, we can't wait to explore all of the options.

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Logan Square
20

Drumbar

The gorgeous 18th-floor bar of the Raffaello Hotel boasts three prime sections: a handsome, dim interior full of tufted leather banquettes; a chic exterior deck lounge with open fire pits; and (our favorite) a narrow indoor-outdoor corridor where the marble floor and arched windows play against contemporary green stools. Drumbar is serving a lot of classics, but their own drinks creatively named after television shows and characters, like the Ron Swanson, deserve your attention.

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Streeterville
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21

Weegee’s Lounge

Ten years from now, when this strip of Armitage is populated with coffee shops and vintage clothing stores, this old-school, soul record–playing, classic cocktail–mixing bar will be overrun with hipsters vying for their turn in the photo booth. Start hanging out here now so you can say you knew it in the good, old days.

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Logan Square

Comments

1 comments
KC D

Check out the hiiden gem that isNeat Kitchen+Bar in westmont when you do the list for Best Whiskey Bars.  They should also be on the list for beer, cocktail, and wine bar.  Check it out.  It will not be a secret for much longer.