Fancy nights out are fun and all, but sometimes you just want to pull up a barstool to a bar that doesn't require a dress code. We love these dives because the bartenders won't give you the side eye for ordering the cheapest beer on the menu and many offer karaoke—and even craft beer. And lucky for Chicago drinkers, hole-in-the-wall dive bars exist on just about every other corner of the city. Visit one of these no-frills beer bars and neighborhood taverns, but don't forget to stop by the ATM before ordering your drink—many of these bars are cash-only.
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Chicago's best dive bars
This long, wooden bar is helmed by a few middle-aged women who, on Sundays, mix huge batches of kamikazes and sell them for $2 a pop—but the real draw here is karaoke. If you get there and the door’s locked, don’t get discouraged. Just ring the bell over and over again (sometimes the bartenders can’t hear it over yet another version of “Don’t Stop Believin’ ”).
This inconspicuous bar is equal parts after-work dive and Antiques Roadshow. Amid dusty knickknacks and bric-a-brac, the family who runs the place will pour you a stiff drink and then try to sell you a Civil War–era revolver, a set of buffalo-themed shot glasses or anything else lying around—anything except for the patriarch’s wall-mounted marlin and the Hamm’s sign hanging out front.
A silver disco ball throws bright spots onto tomato-red walls and a mini karaoke stage at one of the longest-standing Polish joints in this area. Cocktails may be 50 cents more during Saturday-night karaoke, but Mondays still offer $5 pitchers, and a penny-pincher special can be had on nearly every other night of the week (especially if you’re into kamikazes). Go quick before this one goes the way of Wicker Park.
Vodka Collins? No. Margarita? Sorry. Apple martini? Not a chance. Better just grab a beer or a shot of whiskey and sit down. The history of this blue-collar watering hole is told through the flyers and newspaper clippings that clutter the walls. From what we can tell, looks as if the place hasn’t changed much at all.
In this gem of a bar/pizza parlor, a statue of a Rubenesque woman is the center of the room, and regulars gather around her to sip Bloody Marys and debate this and that. The kitchen puts out a nice deep-dish, with a crispy crust and a well-spiced (if slightly sweet) sauce. We’d tell you to go for the Gino’s “special,” with its chunks of sausage and strips of green pepper. But really, with this atmosphere, your night’s going to be special no matter what you get.
A gurgling goldfish pond, picnic tables galore and a lush lawn all around is the scene at this West Town dive. But when it rains (or at 11pm, when the garden closes), pack up the ciggies and head back inside, where the smell of whiskey and cheap beer hangs in the air, drunks angle for a turn on the Ping-Pong tables, and the jukebox coughs out the Cars and Madonna.
As at the nearby Rainbo Club, the hipness quotient at this stripped-down Ukie V stalwart known as the Secret Squirrel has shot through its nicotine-stained ceiling, paralleling the changing demographics of the neighborhood. You can still belly up with a couple of actual Ukrainian expats in the afternoon, but eager twentysomethings with energy (and hormones) to burn rule the night.
The Clark and Belmont hood is a unique mix of Boystown dwellers, wasted Cubs fans and local renters who love a bargain. This no-frills Lakeview tavern keeps the madness at bay in favor of friendly bartenders who buy rounds during afternoon Jeopardy!, a $2 beer-of-the-month and a great collection of two-dozen Irish whiskeys.
Catering to those who “work” odd hours (read: unemployed indie filmmakers) and a ragtag troupe of friendly regulars, this tiny (and cheap) bar-cum–liquor store is the perfect final destination for a raucous night. Doors open at the crack of dawn and Ola, the Polish live wire who owns the joint, has been known to unlock earlier if properly coerced.
Among the framed drawings of regulars cluttering the wooden walls of this saloon-style staple are posters boasting that you’re in “le premiere dive bar” of Chicago. We don’t know where this place gets off speaking French, but it’s been around since 1958, so we’ll grant it bragging rights.