Every college town has an Irish pub or two, and a place to catch a show. But not every college town has a terrific brewery and a highly regarded cocktail bar. In Evanston, the drinking options are better than most college towns, since you can grab a pint at an Irish bar, cozy up with a tiki drink or classic cocktail at Ward Eight, and spend the afternoon over a flight of beers at Temperance Beer Company. Here's where we drink in Evanston.
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Grab a stool and make an Irish lass or lad of yourself. The friendly staff, warmly lit room and Dublin brews on tap are worth a visit alone, but even better is the broiled catch of the day. Wash it down with a few proper pints that should get you swaying if the live bluegrass doesn’t.
Sleek, modern and attached to a delicious wood-fire pizza joint, the club caters books everything from up and coming Chicago native Noname to singer/songwriter Vanessa Carlton. There's also the occasional hip indie gig, perhaps thanks to nearby presence of Northwestern University. For those driving, there’s a garage across the street.
It’s damn near impossible to find, but once you get to the Temperance taproom, you won’t want to leave. Grab a seat at the wraparound bar or communal tables, or play a game of shuffleboard. The crowd mostly consists of groups of parents with young kids or professor types drinking pints while digging into cartons of Chinese food (there are snacks, like popcorn from Chicago's Popcorn Asylum, or you can order delivery or bring snacks in). Temperance’s beers, which are available on tap around the area, are offered at the taproom in pints or as part of a flight. Try the easy-drinking Birdsong Saison is sweetened with honey. When it's nice out, the garage door opens onto a patio, and the extra seats are definitely welcome—this place fills up fast.
If you come to this Irish pub at the right time (say, Sunday at 3pm, when an Irish folk group performs), there’ll be plenty of room to play darts and plenty of locals to rub shoulders with over a black and tan. Otherwise, you should either be a Northwestern undergrad or be able to keep up with one to fit in with the coed crowd.
The cozy bar, located on the Evanston side of Howard St, has left a lot of the nonsense of the current cocktail movement behind. This is a good thing. Where Ward’s forebears still write shaming rules (“No light beer. No Grey Goose.”) and dictate that bartenders wear vests, Ward bartenders have no dress code, and their rules (“Please don’t shout”) are nothing but polite requests. This lack of pretense (which was always a benefit of drinking at the late Andersonville bar In Fine Spirits, where Ward owners Anne Carlson and Cody Modeer used to work) is just one of the charms here. Others include the frosty coupe the well-made Hemingway cocktail comes in and the high-flavor, low-maintenance bar menu. The room is small and warmly lit. The bartenders are friendly and serious. The cocktails are practiced and perfect. But at Ward Eight, none of this is presented as a big, important deal. Here, the spectacle surrounding cocktail culture has been rubbed away, revealing a way of serving drinks that actually feels new.