The brewpub, which makes culinary-focused beers, will challenge your expectations of what a brewpub can be. Grilled apple-tarragon beer? Bison tartare sprinkled with cured egg yolk? A potato cake with romesco sauce and tapenade, a.k.a. the best vegetarian entree we've had all year? Welcome to Band of Bohemia, which was founded by two Alinea vets and features Matt DuBois (EL Ideas, Inovasi) and Kevin McMullen (The Brixton) in the kitchen. The brewpub also has a chef's counter, a serious coffee and tea program (they're open during the day), and the sense that these guys are just getting started—we can't want to see where they go.
Brothers Chris and Calvin Marty bought the old Marble Bar and reopened it as Best Intentions this year. The dive bar charm remains, although the bar is a little sleeker and the drinks are much better. Settle into a table on the big back patio, or sidle up to the bar for minty Wondermint Malted shakes, shots of Angostura bitters (they're the only bar anywhere with the bitters on draft) and a list of well-made classics.
The Chicago outpost of Gabe Orta and Elad Zvi’s much-lauded Miami cocktail bar is located in the Freehand Hotel and serves some of the city's most interesting cocktails. Try a Garrett's Popcorn–inspired old-fashioned, Chicago-style hot dog margarita or more straightforward drinks, like a sherry cobbler on draft. The bar is tiny, but seats are also available by the fireplace in the lobby, and it's a cozy spot to spend the colder months.
Easily the most exciting place to drink this year was the Chicago Athletic Association, which has five bars. For luxury, it's the eight-seat Milk Room, which focuses on rare and vintage spirits. For elegant drinks and dinner, Cherry Circle Room. For low-key relaxing, the Drawing Room. For games and more affordable drinks, Game Room. And for city views, Cindy's. While they each appeal to a different crowd, for serious fans of wine or cocktails, we love Cherry Circle Room, thanks to wines from sommelier Andrew Algren (Alinea) and cocktails from Paul McGee (Lost Lake).
We weren't around to bar hop through the '70s, but we're pretty sure the drinks were not quite as good as Heavy Feather bartender Doug Phillips (Scofflaw) makes them seem. At the sleek fern bar, Phillips brings back cocktails from the era and greatly improves upon them. A brand new cocktail list just launched, with a Tom & Jerry, Brandy Alexander and Mudslide ice cream drink, and we can't wait to explore the new options.
Drink like a sailor at Queen Mary Tavern, the latest spot from Heisler Hospitality, which marries two of the group's bars: the low-key feel of Sportsman's Club with the serious drink program of Pub Royale. Run by Dan Smith and Mony Bunni, Queen Mary focuses on maritime drinking traditions, so expect mostly gin, rum and Scotch. And expect the cocktails to be strong—Albatross combines gin and madeira with Angostura and coriander for an herbal sip, while St. Erasmus is a tall, icy swizzle with overproof rum and some heat from chili. The short beer list features two Aquanaut beers on tap and a Coors Banquet Beer. Soon, a tiny kitchen in back will serve snacks.
Beer nerds wanting a taste of brews from places like Norway and Spain that they can’t easily find elsewhere in Chicago should head to Villains, which reopened in the South Loop after being closed for a few years. The beer list is changing constantly, so it's worth making regular trips to see what's available. Bonus: Food from Dennis Stover, like perfectly cooked pork belly with sweet potatoes, makes it easier to try a couple beers in one session.