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Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

The 10 best new bars of 2016

Chicago's best new bars of 2016 gave us fantastic breweries, a cider bar and all-day cocktail hangs

By Elizabeth Atkinson

Agave spirits made a big splash at the beginning of 2016, while a handful of new breweries rounded out the year. We saw plenty of fancy cocktails we simply can't get enough of from industry favorites (looking at you, Fat Rice and the Fifty/50 Group). And Heisler Hospitality continued to wow us with yet another bar in another great neighborhood (we can't wait to see what's up your sleeve for 2017). Here's to the new bars that kept the booze flowing in 2016.

RECOMMENDED: The best of 2016

The best new bars of 2016

1. Estereo

Bars Café bars Logan Square

This all-day bar from Heisler Hospitality won us over instantly, wooing us with garage doors letting in a breeze, coffee drinks in the morning and spirit-focused drinks to take us into the evening. Latin American tunes spin over a record player, keeping us at the triangle-shaped bar with Estereo's signature cocktail—the Breezy (with gin or tequila, please)—in our hands. While bars in Logan Square may feel a dime a dozen—and believe us, we know there are certainly a ton of bars in the neighborhood we simply couldn't live without—Estereo's one we expect to be headed back to time and time again.

Forbidden Root
Forbidden Root
Photo: BJ Pichman

2. Forbidden Root

Bars Breweries East Village

Yeah, Forbidden Root's beers have been around for a while and yes, the Sublime Ginger is indeed delicious. But we've fallen for the brewpub too, with an ever-changing beer list stacked with interesting and unusual ingredients and a food menu that's pretty phenomenal, as well. The brewers have built a solid beer list with mainstays we can't get enough of (you can pass us more of the Köld & Wet with an elixir) to interesting collaborations like the current Green Eyes made with coffee from Dark Matter. For brunch, grab the coconut milk French toast and the braised pork shoulder and for lunch and dinner, we're all about the burger. Bonus points: On Mondays, you get your burger with a shot of bourbon and a beer for $15.

Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

3. Vol. 39

Bars Hotel bars Loop

Head bartender Jess Lambert left Sable to start the beverage program at Vol. 39, on the second floor of the newly-opened Kimpton Gray Hotel. Lucky for us—since we were fans of Lambert's drinks at Sable—we have an entire menu of phenomenal cocktails served at Vol. 39. The bar's high-end library-feeling, with green marble tables and cozy velvet armchairs, makes for a posh starting point for your evening. We know we can't wait for our next post-work drink at the bar.

Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

4. Annex at GreenRiver

Bars Cocktail bars Streeterville

This one comes with the sad news that bartender Julia Momose will be leaving GreenRiver and Annex at the end of 2016, but the bar's in great hands with the team she's created. Annex was one of our favorite bar openings this year, with upscale cocktails with heartfelt stories behind each of them. While this one feels like a treat we can't quite afford every day (cocktails tend to start at about the $15 mark and prices increase from there), for a special occasion it's a great destination with a fantastic view. The themed menu changes seasonally, so we'll see what the new year sans-Momose brings for GreenRiver's sister bar.

Photograph: Nick Murway

5. The Northman

Bars Beer bars North Center

After waiting for literal years, the Northman finally opened its doors to us bringing Chicago its first cider bar. We've totally embraced it and love how much we;ve learned by sitting at the bar listening to the bartenders—who are always helpful and full of knowledge—help us figure out what exactly we're looking for in a cider. And don't forget about those fancy Spanish long pours that practically come from the ceiling. Northman feels like a neighborhood joint that we'll be coming to for years to come, a spot where you could easily become a regular.

6. The Ladies' Room

Bars Cocktail bars Logan Square
Fat Rice partners Abraham Conlon and Adrienne Lo spread their wings a bit this year, adding both the Ladies' Room and Fat Rice Bakery to their lineup with the space adjacent to Fat Rice. The reservations-only Ladies' Room is a speakeasy-style with red curtains and a Chinese-gambling-hall feel of the 19th-and 20th-century Macau red light district. Cocktails come with non-traditional ingredients and house-made tinctures designed for the more adventurous drinker.
Photograph: Jordan Balderas

7. Moody Tongue Brewing Co.

Bars Breweries Near South Side

Turning the idea of a traditional brewery on its head, Moody Tongue Brewing Co. came out of the gates with their new space clad with a marble-topped bar, a cozy fireplace, white painted brick and blue leather sofas. You won't find any traditional brewpub food here—head brewer Jared Rouben is calling for chocolate cake and oysters only to pair with your beers. And after a night of giving his idea a go, we have to say we agree, oysters and chocolate cake make truly phenomenal beer pairings. You'll find the brewery's mainstays on tap along with a rotating seasonal menu (which have included barrel-aged versions of the mainstays and beer packed with truffles), meaning you can grab an old favorite or try something new every time you stop in.

Silly Rabbit at The Sixth in Ravenswood
Silly Rabbit at The Sixth in Ravenswood
Photograph: Jason Little

8. The Sixth

Bars Cocktail bars Lincoln Square

Alright, alright. So this one technically squeaked in at the very end of 2015, but we'll count it in 2016 since it's opening date was too close to the deadline for 2015's list. The Sixth quickly made itself a staple right off the bat, winning best new cocktail bar in our inaugural Time Out Chicago Bar Awards and stealing our hearts with whimsical cocktails. I mean, have you seen the Silly Rabbit? Benjamin Schiller (the Fifty/50 Group) heads up the bar with seasonal cocktails and perennial favorites that keep us guessing what's coming next. And whatever it is, we're all in.

Photograph: Sara Freund

9. Dovetail Brewery

Bars Breweries North Center

Chicago's positively packed with great breweries, so what's one more got to offer? Excellent quality. You'll find crisp, clean, true-to-style tastes in every single one of Dovetail's beers, which is important when it seems like anyone you know can make beer. The no-frills taproom regularly has food trucks hanging out outside (and if not there, mosey on down to Begyle, it might be sitting outside) to help sate your palate. With always delicious seasonal beers and regular favorites, we're excited to see what else Dovetail has to offer us in 2017 (keep on with the fun neighborhood events, please!). Pass us another hefeweizen, we'll be hanging out here for a while.

10. Mezcaleria Las Flores

Bars Mezcalerias Logan Square

This year truly was the year of mescal, with a handful of new bars dedicated to the spirit popping up within a matter of weeks at the start of 2016. But we fell for Mezcaleria Las Flores, head up by Jay Schroeder. You'll find it next to Johnny's Grill (and you can even order their food into the Mezcaleria), spinning old school hip hop and slinging smoky mescal-laced drinks in everything from a beer bottle-turned-glass to a bowl. Looking to expand your mescal knowledge? Hit up the long list of mescals, served with spices and citrus to temper the bite.


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