Best 4am bars in Chicago
Al Capone and other gangsters used to hang here in the 1920s, but these days it’s all about the music. Owner Dave Jemilo, who returned the club to its original luster in the 1980s, books smart bebop and free jazz with a discriminating ear. Thanks to the club's 4am license, sets can go extra-late, though if you show up past 2am you'll usually just find people drinking cocktails and admiring the classic décor.
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. Here, you'll find Second City students and company members mingling with the Old Town bar crowd—if you want to meet some interesting people at 3am on a Saturday night, this is a good place to start.
Going to a 4am bar usually means cheap beer and simple mixed drinks, but Barrelhouse Flat puts a slightly classier spin on the experience of staying out late to drink. Order from a menu of nearly 70 cocktails, find a comfortable seat and end the evening with a nightcap that you might even think about ordering when you're sober.
Not feeling Subterranean’s music for the night? Can’t take the hipper-than-thou crowd at Rainbo? Prefer a place less clubby than Debonair? Well, then head to this low-key sanctuary in the otherwise oft-pretentious Milwaukee-North-Damen intersection. No one’s trying to out-cool anyone here (though late at night, they’re definitely trying to pick each other up), so feel free to strike up a conversation with a stranger over some tasty late-night bar eats.
There's seemingly always a party going on at East Room, and it's usually the kind of celebration that goes late into the night. With more and more bars cropping up in Logan Square, the drunk masses need somewhere to continue the night, after all. You can grab a can of beer from the bar ($3 for a Hamm's ain't bad) or head back to the dance floor, where DJs spinning hip-hop usually hold court from a small booth.
The calendar is anything-goes at this straightforward neighborhood lounge. It’s got a late-night license and has room for live rockabilly music, hip-hop and juke DJs on the weekends, and periodic house and techno marathons. The cover is usually low, so you won't have to spend a fortune to stay out for another few hours.
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 polite Lincoln Park club has an unusual setup–two different bands in two different rooms on two different stages, with MC Frank Pellegrino keeping things moving at all times. Expect to find local bands that lean in a rock direction while playing standards such as "(I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man," though the club occasionally books out-of-town acts as well.
4am bars aren't exactly difficult to find in River North, but few boast the refined atmosphere of Celeste. You can come here and drink beer if you like, but the cocktails are the star of the show—if you've already tied one on, coming here after 2am is only going to increase your chances of a debilitating hangover.
Originally on the fourth floor of the magnificent Wrigleyville building (also home to Metro), this venerated dance club is now in the basement. A makeover in 2006 slicked up the looks a notch and brought back a vibrant young crowd. But more important, the club boasts a world-class Funktion One sound system, which sounds tremendous on the central dance floor. Cutting-edge DJs from Europe, Detroit and Chicago form the bulk of the weekend bookings with house, techno and electro styles.
A construction theme dominates this Rogers Park gay bar, where a grab bag of dudes cram the dance floor on weekend nights. Head downstairs to the Hole if you want to get sweaty in close quarters or slip outside to the patio if you need a chance to cool down.
Located within walking distance of the Western Blue Line stop, Remedy Bar is a fairly recent addition to the neighborhood and one of the only 4am bars in the area. Anyone in Bucktown who doesn't want to dive into Wicker Park in the wee hours is probably heading here, so expect a crowd if you're showing up late.
As soon as you walk into this place it’s obvious that everyone has had enough drinks to consider you their best friend—and they know every single lyric to every single song. The first floor caters to the hip-hop and Top 40 crowd, while the lower level gives you sing-a-long ’80s rock. If you can maneuver your way through the late-night dancing crowd, you’ll agree: This place always delivers a good time.
Weeknights are low-key at this retro dive from the Estelle’s folks, but the rooms fill up by midnight on weekends and stay packed until the 4am closing time (5am on Saturdays). Cheap drinks and less-cheap craft beers abound at all times, hipster tunes rule the jukebox, there’s a dance floor in back lined with mirrors and, if all that doesn’t do it for you, there’s a waterfall—a waterfall!—behind the bar.
Whether it’s lunchtime or late at night, this steak-and-a-beer standby captures a classic Chicago feel in a far more subtle manner than most. It could be the bartender with his slick vest and tie or the towering walls of signed photos from satisfied Chicago sports and entertainment celebs. But we like to think that classic-ness is mainly due to the straight-talking clientele who like their whiskey on the rocks and their ties loose.
In one corner of this subterranean sports bar, you’ll find frat boys flirting with the bartenders. In another, you’ll see an entire accounting department downing beers and watching various games on the 50 screens. And somewhere, there’s a table of Northwestern med students—but they’re just trying to relax, so leave the questions about your gallbladder for your doctor.
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 is a major locus of creativity in nightlife, with a rotating lineup of specialized parties.
In its past life as Hiawatha (a.k.a. Pizza Lounge), the only thing you’d pick up here was a six-pack of cheap beer to lug next door for a chicken dinner at Feed. Now, the 100-year-old dive has transformed into a slick little enclave for the late-night crowd to scope each other out and suck down the last liquor of the night to the tune of the DJ’s all-rock repertoire.
The entry process is rather rigorous, but it’s worth it for strong drinks and a friendly LGBT vibe. On a recent visit we watched the crowd groove to hip-hop and house while also chatting and canoodling on the sidelines. Plus, it's one of the few bars with a 4am license on the South Side.
Thursday is fetish night and Monday it’s punk rock, but pretty much any night you stumble upon this haunt for the black-clad you’ll see that the freaks indeed do come out at night. Like any clique, it tends to have an insider feel, but brave souls looking for their Ministry and PBR fix have to start somewhere.
Young and old, dregs and misfits, singers and drunkards—all break out their best shower voice at this Ravenswood spot for karaoke seven nights a week. You’re as likely to hear Young MC’s “Bust a Move” as you are Sinatra’s “It Was a Very Good Year.” The same kind of juxtaposition puts watermelon shots next to Manhattans on the weekly specials board. Deee-lish.
Situated steps away from the Damen Blue Line station, the focus at Flat Iron is on the drinks in the glasses—and the fact that you can get them until 4am. The dark bar is roomy and a little divey, and it’s essentially as low-key and basic as a bar can get. And that’s exactly what this neighborhood needs.
At this shoebox of a cocktail bar, the drinks are skillfully prepared, the crowd is kept to a minimum by the doorman, and the music never gets so loud that it drowns out your insights on Jean Genet. The clientele is mixed in age but not in gender, and everyone is on their best behavior, which makes it an altogether more sophisticated and adult experience than Elixir’s next-door sister, Hydrate.
Ravenswood locals flock to this bar for its namesake’s warmth (everyone loves the covered, heated patio) and coziness. Bartenders tend to pour heavy here—we ordered a Scotch on the rocks and found ourselves drinking from a full highball glass—so some food from the adjoining restaurant will be in order to soak it all up, especially if you're sticking around until close.
The rumble of the train drowns out your conversation in the beer garden every five minutes, but that’s a small price to pay for a laid-back day sipping beer in the sun. Servers are attentive, and the crowd outside is pretty chill—the only shit-talking going on is at the pool table. That is, until most of Wicker Park’s other bars close at 2 and the line outside waiting to get in gets unruly.
Legend has it that the Velvet Underground once rocked the stage at Mother’s, which opened its doors in 1968. But don’t come here looking for avant-garde rock. These days, Mother’s is all about pleasing the sweat-drenched, booze-soaked Division Street masses who pack the dance floor into the early morning hours hoping to grind against Mr. or Ms. Right—or at least Mr. or Ms. Tonight.
Who the hell are all these people? Late at night, this place attracts a curiously diverse pack of frat boys, cowboys, corporate suits and the occasional hippie. It’s a far cry from the upper-crust crowd we’d expect, which is precisely why we like this Gold Coast rebel.
This subteranean Lincoln Park bar has everything you expect from a dive in the area: free popcorn, a four-dollar beer special, Black Crowes blasting from the speakers and post-frat boys highfiving the night away. But, if you need a place to hole up for an extra two hours at the end of the night, there are certainly worse 4am bars that you could end up at.
The Lincoln Square dive is open till 4am every night, but upon arrival, you may find the doors locked and no one else there. No worries—the older lady helming bar let us right in when we knocked, and proceeded to offer whiskey shots as a side to our steins of Spaten. There's a jukebox with German music and a pool table, but as the night creeps later and the bar fills up, you won't be hurting for entertainment.
The sleekest of Wrigleyville bars can handle spillover from any Metro show, no matter who's been playing. That's no easy task, but the look and feel of this place—exposed-brick walls littered with slick flat-screen TVs and paintings of jazz musicians—is as welcoming to Atmosphere die-hards as Sufjan Stevens fans.