Sometimes, the night just needs to keep going when bars announce last call. When that's the case, it's time to move to a 4am bar. You'll have your pick, too, since there are more than 70 around the city, and on weekends, some of them stay open till 5am. Some are dive bars, some are cocktail bars and some are gay bars, but all are Chicago bars where you can keep the party going almost until sun-up.
RECOMMENDED: Best bars in Chicago
4am bars in Chicago
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’ ”).
Dark, narrow, crowded and loud—this is exactly what we envisioned when we heard River North nightlife mogul Billy Dec was opening yet another bar. Expect to use a flashlight app if you want to read the menu and to throw a few elbows if you want to order a drink. The list of more than 80 tequilas by the glass is impressive, though we don’t see a single person order from it.
Name any of the 70 cocktails on this bar’s menu, and I can count on one hand—in some cases two—the number of other bars in Chicago I would trust to make it as well as the bartenders at the Barrelhouse Flat. Stephen Cole, a veteran of the Violet Hour, is a partner, and he was assisted in assembling this mighty drink tome by Barrelhouse GM Greg Buttera, who helped open The Aviary and mans a tiki night at Curio. Any classic you could think of (Sazerac, mint julep, whiskey sour) and any that you probably wouldn’t (Queen’s Park Swizzle, Brooklyn, Bliz’s Royal Rickey) has made its way into this book, which is organized by spirit and subdivided by technique (shaken, stirred, etc.). In these bartenders’ hands, you’re in no danger of getting a bad drink: Even a frequently defiled drink like a whiskey sour has body (from being shaken with an egg white) and complexity (orange bitters). But after a couple of visits, I felt almost too safe at the Barrelhouse Flat. This is not an insult to the bar’s ability to confidently knock out dozens of classic cocktails but rather a reflection of that achievement: The faithfulness and care given to old recipes couldn’t help but make me curious what kind of new recipes these guys might be kicking around in those crazy heads of theirs. (The answer is quite a few, coming soon.) Before I move on, I want to be clear that the Barrelhouse Flat is 100 percent a cocktail bar. And that it probably would not have occurred to me to order food there, especially
There’s tons of room to spread out in this standard Lincoln Park pub, whether it’s to down some Stella in a booth or play some darts. Space is harder to come by at around 10pm, when the DJ inspires ass-slapping and groin-grinding—you’ll either have to make a quick escape or join in.
This freak-friendly dance destination in Lakeview built its reputation back in the mid-’80s with a mix of German new-wave music, art installations and even drag shows. These days, it’s still quirky, blending modern electro with retro, with nights devoted to Madonna, Björk, Depeche Mode and Robyn. Goths and gays are extra welcome, but the scene here is made up of almost everyone. Thursday night's Stardust a major locus of creativity in nightlife, especially in its trippier monthly Total Therapy incarnation, the last Thursday of each calendar page.
Looking for an after-hours hetero hookup? When Wrigleyville's bars begin to close, every inch of this cavernous, woody space attached to 1000 Liquors teems with an eager twentysomething crowd looking to maintain a domestic-beer buzz, down a couple of Jell-O shots and make that last-ditch effort to take home a hottie. Big City's rowdy rep belies its late-night kitchen that serves better-than-average bar fare till 3am.
This eatery is furnished with dark wood cast-offs from the old Ambassador Hotel. That sets the tone for this new-but-old bistro. The old Bjian was once a celeb magnet. That’s no longer the case, but the solid menu of burgers, half chicken and cobb salad is as pleasing as watching your favorite black-and-white movie on late-night tv. Speaking of late night, one of Bijan’s strengths is a kitchen that stays open into the wee hours.
A friendly late-night joint is hard to find. One where off-duty cops, dolled-up hipsters and sporty types drink together in harmony, like this one, is even harder. Inside, the exposed-brick wall and candlelit bar make for a cozy atmosphere. Add some fine picks by the DJ and two of the nicest bartenders around, and you’ll definitely be back for seconds.
The Prohibition era-meets–New Orleans theme sets the scene for one big bachelorette party. Girls go wild with dance contests to pop and ’80s hits, and while Mardi Gras beads start the night dangling around animal heads hung on the walls, they eventually end up around the necks of drunken revelers.
Guys, don’t even bother. This River North hangout has plenty of tables to nosh on a burger and a big, circular bar with plenty of stools to put down your pints. But after work, it’s crowded three-suits-deep with men trying to flirt with the gorgeous bartenders, so only a woman could get lucky here.