The days of crappy food at sports bars are long past—these Chicago restaurants and bars deliver great bar snacks and televisions to watch the game. Whether it's Chicago pizza or even oysters you feel like noshing on while watching the Bears, these spots have you covered.
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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 hightop 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 (try the simple Moscow Mule) 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.
Is this a pizza joint? Or a Polish restaurant? Actually, it’s mostly a sports bar, with more screenage per square foot than most bars of this size. For game-watching eats, you get a choice of thin-crust, South Side–style, square-cut thin-crust pies. They come with a crackly crust and toothsome, spicy pepperoni, and in general they fare better than the Polish fare. Though, who knows? Even a mediocre potato pancake will taste good if your team is winning.
So the hipster-vintage-saloon aesthetic and a taxidermy grizzly bear wander into a sports bar. This is pretty much the setup of Frontier, a gastropub from the folks behind Lottie’s and the Pony, which mashes North Woods lodge elements into the neighborhood-tap mold. Chef Brian Jupiter’s food—charbroiled oysters, sliders and even whole-animal feasts—adds another component to the mix, and the more time you spend eating the impressive dishes, the faster it all starts to come together.
R.J. and Jerrod Melman, sons of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises impresario Rich Melman, are behind this midscale River North catchall that offers a menu that ranges from open-face BLTs to fish tacos. The crowd is as varied as the eats—tourists, ladies who lunch and local workers rub elbows—and everyone seems content with the large portions, boisterous scene and TVs to catch the game. Braised pork tacos with housemade tortillas are a surprise hit, and plump maki do the trick if sushi cravings hit.
Two things keep this place from going the route of sports-bar-beer-bong culture: excellent house brews and expertly executed pizzas. The crispy pies hold a lot of weight, so after you choose your pizza style—red, white, BBQ or New Haven–style “plain” (red sauce, no mozzarella)—start piling on the toppings. (If you’re really going New Haven–style, try one with clams and bacon.) Order a pitcher of the crisp Golden Arm, and you’ll never disparagingly say “pizza and beer joint” again.
Why the exclamation point? Because Prost! is very excited about German beer. There are 24 of them on tap, all offered in various sizes and served in the appropriate glassware. The beer-hall look and menu of schnitzel and pretzels make things extra Deutsch. Catch the games on TVs that line the walls.
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—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 shtick at Roots is that it hawks pizza in the style of the Quad Cities—that is, pizza with malt in the crust that’s cut with scissors. Turns out the Quad Cities style can cross county lines and be successful (even if that malt tastes less malty and more sweet). Very fine housemade cheese sticks, crunchy salads and a comprehensive list of Midwestern beers make for a quality spot where you can also watch a game.
When we’re in the mood for bar food, this laid-back neighborhood favorite is among the first spots to come to mind. The TV-packed room might hint at average pub grub, but excellent eats and unique touches (housemade pineapple-infused vodka, for one) elevate the experience. Try the juicy burger (order it medium-rare, topped with cheddar and sub onion rings) and the Memphis combo, a duo of crunchy fried redfish and massive, meaty spare ribs with good smoke and tender meat. Hand-cut fries complete the gut-busting good time.