How to sneak into Chicago's most secret bars

Chicago is home to some great speakeasies, but do you know how to get in? We have your step-by-step guide to getting inside these hidden bars.
Red Rum
Photograph: Andrew Nawrocki
By Elizabeth Atkinson, Morgan Olsen and Time Out Chicago editors |
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It's easy enough to know about Chicago's hidden speakeasies, but just how easy is it to actually get in? We snuck into some of the city's most secret bars to share the tips and tricks we learned along the way. From cocktail hangs and Japanese izakayas to Irish pubs and college bars, here's how to access top-secret bars all over Chicago. 

RECOMMENDED: Our guide to the best bars in Chicago

How to sneak into Chicago's most secret bars

The Drifter
Photograph: Andrew Nawrocki
Bars, Lounges

The Drifter

icon-location-pin River North

Green Door Tavern is one of the oldest bars in the city, giving it some serious street cred in the history department. Thankfully, the bar’s basement speakeasy, the Drifter, is a cocktail haven that only requires a little patience to find. Here's what you'll do: Walk into Green Door, head to the back of the bar and hang a left to go down the stairs as if you were going to the bathroom. At this point, you may encounter a line for the Drifter. If not, look for a knickknack-adorned door at the bottom of the stairs. Once inside, you’ll be handed a few tarot cards, which double as the cocktail menu. It’s all luck of the draw. —Elizabeth Atkinson

DIFFICULTY: Easy

Photograph: Courtesy Fifth Province Pub
Bars, Pubs

Fifth Province Pub

icon-location-pin Irving Park

Irving Park’s Irish American Heritage Center houses a library, a museum, an art gallery, an auditorium and a banquet hall, but you can also stop by for a drink at its authentic Irish pub. It’s easy to get into—just walk in through the building’s main entrance (it’s open to the public) take a left and you’ll soon find yourself in a bar called the Fifth Province. You can order a pint of Guinness, sip on some whiskey or dig into a giant basket of steak fries. It’s a popular destination for Irish tourists and musicians playing traditional Irish music—if you’re lucky, you’ll overhear someone speaking with a genuine brogue. —Zach Long

DIFFICULTY: Easy

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Bars, Cocktail bars

The Library at Gilt Bar

icon-location-pin River North

If you’re looking to hole up somewhere dark and cozy for the evening (no, we’re not talking about your couch), try your hand at finding the Library in River North. The sexy subterranean bar is located just below Gilt Bar, but chances are you’ll need some serious help finding the hidden doorway. Before you go, there are a few things you should know: The space is only open Thursday through Saturday starting at 6pm, and they take reservations (hallelujah). When you arrive, let the host or hostess know that you’re heading down to the Library and someone will happily show you the way. Once you’ve completed your mission—err, gotten inside—you’ll be rewarded with plush red banquettes, candlelight, classic cocktails and Gilt Bar’s full menu. —Morgan Olsen

DIFFICULTY: Medium

Bars, Izakaya

Booze Box

icon-location-pin West Loop

From the outside, you wouldn’t guess that Sushi Dokku in West Loop has something to hide, but insiders know about the subterranean bar with izakaya-style small plates that waits below. Once you know what you’re looking for, you’ll feel like a covert spy on a mission for boozy cocktails and quality hip-hop music. Head to the alley just behind Sushi Dokku (not sketchy at all) and look for the red light above a door—you've successfully found Booze Box. Psst! If you can’t find it, the staff will be happy to escort you downstairs. —MO

DIFFICULTY: Medium

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Bars, Pubs

The Pub

icon-location-pin Hyde Park

If you're up for a challenge and an adventure, the members-only Pub at the University of Chicago is right up your alley. To get there, you'll walk into Ida Noyes Hall with the confidence of a college kid, turn left and go down the stairs. You'll be deposited in a nondescript hallway, to the right of which is the Pub. The bar itself has a tiny entrance, so "sneaking" in is truly impossible. Instead, stand outside and wait for members to arrive and politely ask a friendly face to be your escort in. It'll cost you a $3 cover and a peek at your ID. Just be sure to buy your host a beer once inside as a token of your gratitude. But believe us, the beer selection and the nachos are worth it. —EA

DIFFICULTY: Hard

Find more of the best cocktails in Chicago

Berkshire Room
Photo: Jason Little
Bars

Cocktails in Chicago

Whether you're looking for your next stop for a drink or want to try to make one yourself, we've got you covered with our guide to cocktails in Chicago.

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