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10 of Chicago's Most Overlooked Cocktail Bars

Go to these places to be truly in the know.

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In a city where cocktail bars furiously jockey for the spotlight, a group of quieter establishments have stayed just left of center. This compendium of overlooked lounges and saloons gives some love to the consistently excellent but somehow under appreciated. While each one of these spots deserves to be discovered, there is something pleasurable about being in a secret. So if you decide to check out any of these places, be respectful of the fact that you've joined a select collective of those truly in the know.

—Stephanie Sack

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Marble

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3281 W. Armitage Ave.
Chicago, IL 60647
(312) 818-1254
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A recent change in ownership at this Logan Square/Humboldt Park outpost has resulted in an elevated yet irreverent approach to what are described as "fancy cocktails". Premixed recipes on soda guns, cocktails served in cans (yes, metal soup cans), and plastic monkey garnishes are all part of the wacky appeal. The menu features six options with no more than four ingredients, and all are priced at an enticing $7. But patrons who came in under previous ownership can still get $2.50 Labatt's drafts and $3 whiskey shots.

2. bar bar black sheep

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1415 N Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 951-4635
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Between the dark exterior on a nondescript corner, this Wicker Park spot is easy to miss among its more high profile neighbors. However, those who venture in will be pleasantly surprised by the creative cocktail offerings, broken into "classic" and "modern" categories. Ingredients such as dark rum and aromatic bitters come together in "The Dawson" while those attending bar bar's popular screening of "The Walking Dead" are obligated to enjoy the orange curacao and absinthe rinse in the "Corpse Reviver #2".

3. Paramount Room

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415 N Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 829-6300
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A pioneer on the not-quite West Town/not-quite-downtown corner of Milwaukee, Grand, and Halsted, this two-story concept is known for their "no crap on tap" philosophy about beer. This curatorial mindset is also evident when it comes to their cocktail lists, which currently features six seasonal sips, highlighting rich ryes and crisp sours against snappy citrus and tangy ginger. Try the "New York Sour" with brandy-soaked cherries for a subtle shot of sweet, or "The Switch" with ginger beer and lime cordial.

4. Joie de Vine

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1744 W Balmoral Ave
Chicago, IL 60640
(773) 989-6846
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Although its name speaks to the extensive wine list, this West Andersonville spot differentiates by crafting extemporaneous cocktails based on a customer's preferences rather than offering a fixed menu. Relying on intuition and insight, mixologists create custom drinks using both old favorites and unexpected flavors: whiskey drinkers might be served bourbon with burnt orange peel and orange zest, while those with a frothier palate could enjoy a concoction with strawberries and ginger.

5. Marty's Martini Bar

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1511 W Balmoral Ave
Chicago, IL 60640
(773) 454-0161
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Vermouth and vodka. Shakers and sugar. All this and not much more is the name of the game at Andersonville's ode to the martini in all its forms and functions. Those looking to relive their "Sex and The City" fantasies can do so over Cosmopolitans, while the more Mad Men-esque among us can ruminate over an old fashioned. Bartenders tend to pour heavy, so be sure to order the "junior" martini option if you're a lightweight.

6. Paladar Cuban Restaurant & Rum Bar

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2252 N Western Ave
Chicago, IL 60659
(773) 252-4747
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When they say rum bar they ain't kidding. Moving from Logan Square to Bucktown last year, the new space offers patrons over 30 varieties of boutique rum, ensuring plenty of exclusive selections for shots, sipping, or as the basis for a cucumber and guava mojito, one of many cocktails on their expansive menu. Margaritas with premium coconut rum ensure a sugarcane-sweet liftoff; $10 pitchers of fresh fruit-topped sangria every Wednesday add further method to the madness.

7. Tiny Lounge

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4352 N Leavitt St, Chicago
IL, 60618
(773) 463-0396
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Don't let the small space fool you, this North Center staple offers a prolific mix of seasonal and signature cocktails. The semi-eponymous "tiny cider" recipe features bison grass vodka and apple cider with fresh lemon juice and simple syrup, while a more provocative recipe mixes whiskey and tequila with a freshly juiced jalapeno for the aptly named "where there's smoke..." Once located under the Addison Brown Line el, Tiny Lounge's consistently sophisticated cocktail menu in an area otherwise celebrated for its sports bars ensures its refreshing longevity.

8. Ward Eight

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631 Howard St
Evanston, IL 60202
(847) 420-7353
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Capitalizing on Howard Street's history of smoky jazz clubs, Ward Eight's chic social scene is reflected in its confidently curated cocktail menu. Absinthe, that perpetually mysterious spirit, makes a stylish appearance in both mixed drinks and through a classic service, while chartreuse and gin definitively mingle in "The Last Word." Reasonable prices paired with a sly craft cocktail know-how could mean a welcome shot of savoir faire on a rapidly emerging strip.

9. Weegee's Lounge

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3659 W Armitage Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 384-9423
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Approaching its 10-year anniversary, Weegee's "where the hell are we" location has only added to its well-deserved mystique. Named after the infamous 30's and 40's crime-scene photographer, the low lighting, tin ceiling, and shuffleboard table create the perfect backdrop to a simpler time with stiffer drinks. Sloe gin fizzes, sidecars, and gibsons are just a handful of the classic recipes handcrafted without fuss or flourish, while more playful options with names such as the "Pink Squirrel" and "Bocci Ball" round out the offerings.

10. The Motel Bar

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600 W Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 822-2900
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Inspired by the swanky hotel bar scene of the swingin' sixties, this Near North spot offers liquors and tipples with a decidedly Vegas-y touch. Peter Lawford would not be out of place sipping on a Tom Collins featuring Motel's "very own secret recipe Collins blend" while his moll nursed a French lemonade with Hendrick's gin and freshly squeezed lemon juice. Ladies' nights and daily drink specials add to the retro ambiance.

1. Marble

3281 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago, IL 60647
A recent change in ownership at this Logan Square/Humboldt Park outpost has resulted in an elevated yet irreverent approach to what are described as "fancy cocktails". Premixed recipes on soda guns, cocktails served in cans (yes, metal soup cans), and plastic monkey garnishes are all part of the wacky appeal. The menu features six options with no more than four ingredients, and all are priced at an enticing $7. But patrons who came in under previous ownership can still get $2.50 Labatt's drafts and $3 whiskey shots.
3281 W. Armitage Ave.
Chicago, IL 60647

2. bar bar black sheep

1415 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60647
Between the dark exterior on a nondescript corner, this Wicker Park spot is easy to miss among its more high profile neighbors. However, those who venture in will be pleasantly surprised by the creative cocktail offerings, broken into "classic" and "modern" categories. Ingredients such as dark rum and aromatic bitters come together in "The Dawson" while those attending bar bar's popular screening of "The Walking Dead" are obligated to enjoy the orange curacao and absinthe rinse in the "Corpse Reviver #2".
1415 N Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60647

3. Paramount Room

415 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60654
A pioneer on the not-quite West Town/not-quite-downtown corner of Milwaukee, Grand, and Halsted, this two-story concept is known for their "no crap on tap" philosophy about beer. This curatorial mindset is also evident when it comes to their cocktail lists, which currently features six seasonal sips, highlighting rich ryes and crisp sours against snappy citrus and tangy ginger. Try the "New York Sour" with brandy-soaked cherries for a subtle shot of sweet, or "The Switch" with ginger beer and lime cordial.
415 N Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60654

4. Joie de Vine

1744 W Balmoral Ave, Chicago, IL 60640
Although its name speaks to the extensive wine list, this West Andersonville spot differentiates by crafting extemporaneous cocktails based on a customer's preferences rather than offering a fixed menu. Relying on intuition and insight, mixologists create custom drinks using both old favorites and unexpected flavors: whiskey drinkers might be served bourbon with burnt orange peel and orange zest, while those with a frothier palate could enjoy a concoction with strawberries and ginger.
1744 W Balmoral Ave
Chicago, IL 60640

5. Marty's Martini Bar

1511 W Balmoral Ave, Chicago, IL 60640
Vermouth and vodka. Shakers and sugar. All this and not much more is the name of the game at Andersonville's ode to the martini in all its forms and functions. Those looking to relive their "Sex and The City" fantasies can do so over Cosmopolitans, while the more Mad Men-esque among us can ruminate over an old fashioned. Bartenders tend to pour heavy, so be sure to order the "junior" martini option if you're a lightweight.
1511 W Balmoral Ave
Chicago, IL 60640

6. Paladar Cuban Restaurant & Rum Bar

2252 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60659
When they say rum bar they ain't kidding. Moving from Logan Square to Bucktown last year, the new space offers patrons over 30 varieties of boutique rum, ensuring plenty of exclusive selections for shots, sipping, or as the basis for a cucumber and guava mojito, one of many cocktails on their expansive menu. Margaritas with premium coconut rum ensure a sugarcane-sweet liftoff; $10 pitchers of fresh fruit-topped sangria every Wednesday add further method to the madness.
2252 N Western Ave
Chicago, IL 60659

7. Tiny Lounge

4352 N Leavitt St, Chicago, IL, 60618
Don't let the small space fool you, this North Center staple offers a prolific mix of seasonal and signature cocktails. The semi-eponymous "tiny cider" recipe features bison grass vodka and apple cider with fresh lemon juice and simple syrup, while a more provocative recipe mixes whiskey and tequila with a freshly juiced jalapeno for the aptly named "where there's smoke..." Once located under the Addison Brown Line el, Tiny Lounge's consistently sophisticated cocktail menu in an area otherwise celebrated for its sports bars ensures its refreshing longevity.
4352 N Leavitt St, Chicago
IL, 60618

8. Ward Eight

631 Howard St, Evanston, IL 60202
Capitalizing on Howard Street's history of smoky jazz clubs, Ward Eight's chic social scene is reflected in its confidently curated cocktail menu. Absinthe, that perpetually mysterious spirit, makes a stylish appearance in both mixed drinks and through a classic service, while chartreuse and gin definitively mingle in "The Last Word." Reasonable prices paired with a sly craft cocktail know-how could mean a welcome shot of savoir faire on a rapidly emerging strip.
631 Howard St
Evanston, IL 60202

9. Weegee's Lounge

3659 W Armitage Ave, Chicago, IL 60647
Approaching its 10-year anniversary, Weegee's "where the hell are we" location has only added to its well-deserved mystique. Named after the infamous 30's and 40's crime-scene photographer, the low lighting, tin ceiling, and shuffleboard table create the perfect backdrop to a simpler time with stiffer drinks. Sloe gin fizzes, sidecars, and gibsons are just a handful of the classic recipes handcrafted without fuss or flourish, while more playful options with names such as the "Pink Squirrel" and "Bocci Ball" round out the offerings.
3659 W Armitage Ave
Chicago, IL 60647

10. The Motel Bar

600 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60654
Inspired by the swanky hotel bar scene of the swingin' sixties, this Near North spot offers liquors and tipples with a decidedly Vegas-y touch. Peter Lawford would not be out of place sipping on a Tom Collins featuring Motel's "very own secret recipe Collins blend" while his moll nursed a French lemonade with Hendrick's gin and freshly squeezed lemon juice. Ladies' nights and daily drink specials add to the retro ambiance.
600 W Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60654

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