Best sports bars in Chicago
The first thing you see is the game, projected onto the wall to a scale so large it’s visible down the block. Then the high-top communal tables, the ceiling draped with an American flag. You take a seat and there’s a bartender who’s as happy to make you a cocktail as to crack open a PBR tallboy. He serves you a Jucy Lucy, a stroke of Minnesotan genius that injects a greasy, juicy burger with Velveeta cheese. And that’s the last thing you can, and need to, remember.
Whether 11am or 11pm, it’s hard to find a seat at this North Center Brit pub. Call it European-style drinking, buffered by U.K. pub grub. During soccer and rugby matches, the crowd of regulars vacillates between raucous and downright scary, but fair-weather fans are welcome to join the zoo.
The corner where this North Center tap sits has been a neighborhood hot spot since Prohibition: the former Schulien's featured a basement speakeasy and a house magician. The ’hood has changed—today's O'Donovan's operates as a laid-back hangout for younger couples and small groups—but the tableside magic shows (and the occasional balloon sculptor) remain on weekends. Escape the crowds in the tucked-away beer garden, heated and enclosed in the winter.
There are other sports bars in Chicago. There are even other sports bars in the South Loop. There is, however, no use in telling either of those things to the crowd of Bears fans waiting up to an hour to secure a table (and with it, a 14-inch grilled-cheese sandwich and a prime view of a TV or 30) at the Scout: They'll just think you're trying to cut in line.
Function trumps form and comfort at this woody, yet cavernous Cubbie corral and outdoor stable, er, patio behind the Friendly Confines. The clientele of former frat brothers and sorority sisters wants its alma mater’s game on the TV and it wants it now—not a problem considering the prevalence of flat-screens.
It’s got the requisite menu of fried food and burgers, televisions in every corner and a shot-and-beer–loving clientele. But the surroundings—stone walls, glass facade—lend this Lakeview sports bar a sensibility so laid-back and inviting that even the least sports-enthusiastic people can get into it.
This loud, sports-crazed triangular pub fills up fast, mainly because it plays host to boisterous beer-swilling alums, with alliances leaning toward University of Arkansas, UNC, Penn State, Syracuse and University of Kentucky. On Thursdays, it’s asses-to-elbows when 25-cent wings and $10 pitchers of Bud Light draw even non-sports fans out of the woodwork.
The bar stools at this sports bar are extra-wide, and the dark room (yes, even in the middle of the day) draws the focus to the game shining brightly from the numerous TVs. It looks as if the nearby United Center may have some competition on its hands: Here you see the game better, cheaper and more comfortably than you would if you were actually there.
Escape to the great outdoors Wisconsin-style with your Leinenkugel, Point or Sprecher and shoot the breeze under the watchful eye of the giant moose that stands sentry. Friends meet at picnic tables, tunes float out from the jukebox (Phish and fowl with "Free Bird" represented) and the occasional neighborhood Labrador mingles with the regulars.
If you're looking for a laid back sports bar, head to Guide's. This large bar has plenty of TVs to tune into the football game or baseball game, but there's also a pool table and a small refrigerator of beers for carryout. Whether you pull a seat up to the bar or hunker down at a table, just get a basket of wings and settle in with a pitcher of beer and you'll fit right in.
We certainly understand why this bar is packed with suits after quitting time. The tall bay windows allow for a fantastic view of the city, there are plenty of beers on tap, and the menu (which is on offer from breakfast through dinner) is an expansive collection of better-than-average pub grub. Just don't come expecting old-school Dublin; it's more like an upscale sports lounge, Chicago-style.
With Three Floyds Gumballhead and Bell's Amber Ale on tap and wings hot off the grill, this well-lit bar will never truly be a dive. But we don’t care, because we feel at home among the concert posters on the walls and the red-velvet booths. And if we’re going to drink out of bottles, it might as well be from this 50 beer–strong selection.
The glitzy sports bar from the Bull & Bear folks is a hit—and why not? The food—pretzel with cheese fondue, burgers with crispy fries and desserts—is as good as you could eat while the game is on. The awesome beer list makes the extensive offerings accessible via icons that even denote what kind of glass each brew is served in. As for the much buzzed-about table-taps and wall-taps (yes, that’s beer taps built into the walls), our server was so on top of her game, we’ll gladly leave those to the high rollers.
The paint's chipping off the walls here and there, the bathroom is a claustrophobe's nightmare, and if it's busy, you might be forced to belly up to a folding table. Then again, this surprisingly spacious bar is filled with so many flat-screen and projection TVs and fills our stomachs with enough good bar food that we almost didn't notice.
The yuppie crowd at this glamorous bar might have other things on its mind, but to come here and not order chef Jared Van Camp's charcuterie is to miss the point: More than a dozen varieties are cured in house, including standouts like the fennel-scented finocchiona. And the kitchen doesn't stop there: Everything from the hot sauce to the hot dogs is made from scratch.
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