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Three folks at a crowded bar drinking a shot.
Bar scenes like this one at Slippery Slope in Logan Square are missed in Chicago.
Marc Much/Eater Chicago

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Exploring Chicago’s Rich Bar History — and How It Will Survive 2020

Chicago is for broad shoulders and stiff drinks

Tavern culture shapes nearly each of Chicago’s 77 neighborhoods (save the city’s dry wards where, through the local option, liquor licenses cannot be issued). Chicago’s bars serve as so-called “third places” for community gathering, spaces to cheer on the city’s sports teams, and venues where music fans converge before and after concerts. While Chicago’s bars can be warm and welcoming, there’s a unique toughness that has helped them survive. Owners are summoning this resolve this year as COVID-19 threatens to wipe out their livelihoods.

Many physicians say drinking at a bar is among the riskiest activities to undertake during the pandemic, and that’s convinced lawmakers to restrict how bars operate: to curb hours, to limit how long customers can linger, and to require customers and staff to wear facial coverings. Most have adhered to the guidelines, but the city has fined and closed a few violators that did not abide by social distancing rules.

Still, Chicago has a rich legacy when it comes to bars — one that’s not always inclusive. Drinkers will find mixologists willing to push boundaries, innovative brewers, and the old fashioned packaged-good store, also known as a “slashie.” A Chicago icon, tavern-style pizza, was born inside bars. Of course, then there’s malört, a unique rite of passage for new Chicagoans that proves as polarizing within the city as it does to the rest of country.

Bars have begun to sell to-go cocktails and set up patio furniture in parking lots and driveways; some have even brought in ovens to sell pizza to satisfy the city’s food mandate, which requires bars to serve food if they want to pour drinks indoors. The creativity is saving some bars, while the challenges have been too daunting for others that have closed their doors forever.

Chicago’s bars aren’t the only ones where tavern culture has transformed in 2020. Drinking in America’s bars is forever changed as the nation faces the challenges from the novel coronavirus. Read on to learn how bars across the country are dealing with COVID-19 as the industry fights for survival.

Drink up the history

A person with gray hair standing next to a lamp post.
Old Town Ale House co-owner Bruce Elliott in front of his late-night bar.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Discover the city's passion for taverns

A person with a beard drinking a cocktail while dressed in a bikini from Star Wars.
Star Wars pop-ups were popular a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.
Marc Much/Eater Chicago

A bartender pours a drink from a metal shaker into a plastic cup.
A bartender mixes a drink at Bureau Bar.
Leslie McConnell/Eater Chicago

Where to drink in Chicago

A pint glass being filled with beer under a tap.
Dovetail Brewery specializes in lagers.
Marc Much/Eater Chicago
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