Bars in Ukrainian Village
The neighborhood bar attracts a crowd from all around the city, thanks to a funky, taxidermy-filled interior; large backyard patio with a summer bar and string lights; and cheap beer and shots. The lowlife, a shot of whiskey or a pull from the amaro machine, (like the old Jäger machines), plus a High Life is just $5, and is more consistent than the ever-rotating list of cocktails. It's cash only, and you can also bring your own food in, though the Tamale Guy will also likely make an appearance for late-night snacking.
Don’t be fooled by its unassuming storefront: This is Chicago’s premier indie rock club, hosting cutting-edge bands from home and abroad. If you need to get away from the noise for a while, the club has a comfortable front room, complete with a pool table and pinball. The club mascot, Radley the cat, passed away years ago, but his scent perhaps lives on. Most local shows are free with RSVP, removing the financial risk from gambling on an unknown bill.
The bittersweet reality of great little dives is that they often lose charm when overrun by masses of clingers-on. Somehow, this Ukrainian Village spot has managed to remain an underground favorite. The local artists and musicians who frequent it hold on to terra firma with cheap drink in hand, awaiting a turn in the photo booth while nodding to everything from Aesop Rock to Black Sabbath.
At this bar, “bangers” stand for sausage (we dig the Chicago-style Vienna Beef over the fancier brat sandwiches), and “lace” for “Brussels lace,” i.e., beer foam on the edge of a glass. The stellar draft selection, two-ounce sample options and knowledgeable staff draw in a mix of beer geeks and neighborhood clientele.
When Pub Royale opened in May 2015 with a British-Indian theme, it sounded almost too hyperspecific—and potentially dicey—to work. But while Britain and India have a long, complicated political history, there’s a clear culinary relationship as well, since their cuisines have merged into Anglo-Indian food, a cuisine style best exemplified by chicken tikka masala, a curry popular in Britain. That’s the angle Pub Royale, from Heisler Hospitality, takes with their food and drink, which includes a lineup of Pimm’s Cups, the summery British favorite, curries and a daily-changing beer and cider menu that rivals the best beer bars in Chicago.
With more clutter than your eccentric aunt’s house, this former speakeasy in Ukie Village serves up cheap booze and warm salted nuts in true dive fashion. Indie-rockers on their way to Empty Bottle shows take advantage of free pool, while a smattering of toothless old-timers keeps it gritty with war stories and phlegmy coughs.
Heisler Hospitality operates Queen Mary Tavern, a bar that focuses on maritime drinking. The theme could easily have been gimmicky, but Heisler knows how to put the right people in charge. At Queen Mary Tavern, Dan Smith and Mony Bunni have assembled a list of cocktails that’s true to the theme—rum, gin and Scotch abound—while using unexpected ingredients and offering sophisticated flavor profiles.
If you’re not familiar with the glorious convenience of “the slashie” (a.k.a. liquor store/bar), this old-man haunt is a good introduction. Sure, it looks like your average corner store: cases of beer, liquor and cheap wine surround retail shelves stocked with junk food in a fluorescent-lit room. But wander toward the dimly lit back of the store and you’ll find yourself in bar country wondering whether you should have a couple before heading home with a fresh six-pack.
Those not paying attention risk stumbling past the subtle neon signage of this recently renovated Ukrainian Village dive. To feel like a regular inside, simply nab an Old Stye, lend an ear at the bar stools and shamelessly belt Van Halen’s “Top of the World."
With outposts in New York, San Francisco, Austin and Portland, Chicago seemed like the next logical location for the kitsch-happy Beauty Bar concept. Sparkling glitter paint adorns the walls, '60s beauty salon furniture acts as seating, and the backroom dance floor is completed with a shimmering disco ball. The music stays obscure and mostly dusty during the week, but DJs turn it into an electro dance party most weekends.
Forbidden Root uses herbs, flowers, leaves and spices to brew different flavors, creating a line of botanic beers with ingredients brewers used in early America and Britain. Pouring their flagships (Forbidden Root, WPA, Sublime Ginger and Shady Character), along with seasonal brews like Heavy Petal, the first in the Divine Mud series—look out for the one offs that are perpetually rotating.
A gurgling goldfish pond, picnic tables galore and a lush lawn all around is the scene at this dive. But when it rains (or at 11pm, when the garden closes), pack up the ciggies and head back inside, where the smell of whiskey and cheap beer hangs in the air, drunks angle for a turn on the Ping-Pong tables, and the jukebox coughs out the Cars and Madonna.
This spot’s a typical, charming, pool-table dive distinguished by its namesake: the tiny woman who pours the drinks. Certain nights can be a real sausage fest, including some baldies from Chicago’s Finest, and every one of them gives her a huge bear hug. Tip her right and you might start getting hugs, too.
Catering to those who “work” odd hours (read: unemployed indie filmmakers) and a ragtag troupe of friendly regulars, this tiny (and cheap) bar-cum–liquor store is the perfect final destination for a raucous night. Doors open at the crack of dawn and Ola, the Polish live wire who owns the joint, has been known to unlock earlier if properly coerced.
Some nights, it might just be you and the bartender at this wood-paneled Ukrainian Village relic; you pour your heart out, while they pour vodka drinks with a heavy hand. The old drunks are quick to challenge you at pool, and the young Poles are obsessed with the jukebox that spits out Polish versions of early-’90s American chart toppers.
Lockdown attempts to set itself apart from the city’s other metal bars with a vague prison theme, burgers with names like “Arson” and “Hawaii 5.0,” and a “virtual venue” concept, meaning live concert DVDs are played on plasma screens. This latter idea sounds silly on paper, but it’s actually kind of brilliant. The music you love with none of the fuss, plus craft beer and a place to sit down.