College towns aren't exactly known for their craft beer or cocktail bars, which is why students and professors from the University of Chicago have it good. And so do the rest of us—Hyde Park bars range from music venues to dive bars, with a spot for everyone in between. Here's where to grab a drink in the South Side neighborhood.
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Best bars in Hyde Park
Matthias Merges' French-Italian restaurant also has a bar, which Alex Bachman (Billy Sunday) curates. No surprise—the drinks are great. There's a housemade wine aperitif, cocktails like Safe Word, a rye, peach and absinthe concoction, and craft beer. Bar snacks, like parmesan-rosemary focaccia with pumpkin butter, round out the offerings.
The name suggests a nautical theme, but aside from a light fixture made from a ship’s wheel and anchor-shaped coat hooks, this is your standard shot-and-a-beer dive. The crowd here is composed primarily of area residents (although there's occasionally overflow from college bars), which makes it a low-key spot to spend an evening.
This Hyde Park dive is frequented by only the more adventurous U. of C. students; a sign on the door threatens to deny entrance to those under 23, though it’s seldom enforced. The clientele is as diverse as the decor, which includes perfunctory nods to Irish pride, a fresco of the New York skyline, film stills from the 1920s, and a jukebox heavy on R&B and soul. The liquor selection is limited, but pitchers are cheap, and there’s an order-through window to the pizza and chicken joint next door.
You have to keep score by hand and the pin-setting mechanism can be a bit wonky, but that’s part of the charm at this eight-lane alley meets pub meets pool hall, done up in retro decor. Foodies won’t be bowled over (sorry) by the menu, which leans a bit mall chain, though the beer list features such respectable offerings as New Holland Dragon’s Milk and Bell's 2 Hearted Ale. Bowling lanes are rented by the hour, and reservations are recommended on weekends.
The restaurant/bar/music venue is massive, and the bar offers solid picks for before or after a show, or just as the evening's main event. The menu includes shaken, blended and carbonated cocktails for each major spirit, plus there's a wine list that offers helpful tasting notes and a few beers on draft. Drinking on the cheap? There's a $3 Tecate can or a $3 Schlitz on tap.
Just off the U. of C. campus, Jimmy’s (as it’s affectionately called by those in the know, after dearly departed original owner Jimmy Wilson) is the favored spot for the scholars to rub elbows with undergrads and working-class neighborhood regulars. Cheap burgers are washed down with even cheaper beer.