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Nobody’s Darling is a James Beard nominated bar.
Garrett Sweet/Eater Chicago

The 28 Essential Bars in Chicago

Bars are back, Chicago

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Nobody’s Darling is a James Beard nominated bar.
| Garrett Sweet/Eater Chicago

Bars are roaring once again in Chicago, a city with rich tavern history where a patron sipping a can of Old Style on Friday can be seen sipping a complex cocktail with an infused spirit on Saturday. Tavern culture is one of many components that makes Chicago unique. Making friends while sipping on a beer or cocktail at a bar is a treasured practice, one that everyone was deprived of during the last year.

What makes a bar essential will always remain in the eyes of the beholder. With this difficult mission, below is Eater Chicago’s list of the most essential bars in the city. While Chicagoans cherish their local bars, these are bars worth venturing to outside one’s comfort zone. It’s more than OK to visit someone else’s neighborhood pub for a night.

Note: Brewery taprooms and wine bars aren’t a part of this list.

Is your favorite not on the list? Email chicago@eater.com or leave a comment and state your case.

For updated information on coronavirus cases, please visit the city of Chicago’s COVID-19 dashboard. Health experts consider dining out to be a high-risk activity for the unvaccinated; it may still pose a risk for the vaccinated, especially in areas with substantial COVID transmission. The latest CDC guidance is here; find a COVID-19 vaccination site here.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.
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Nobody's Darling

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In short notice, Nobody’s Darling has carved itself a space in Chicago’s nightlife. The tavern itself lacks modern bells and whistles, but it’s the welcoming atmosphere, one that embraces the LGBTQ community and its allies, that makes the bar special. The narrow space is often boisterous on weekends with patrons ordering enjoying cocktails and beer. The bar was a finalist for the 2022 James Beard Award for Outstanding Bar Program.

A rainbow flag hangs over the glass door of a narrow bar
Nobody’s Darling in a winner.
Garrett Sweet/Eater Chicago

Hopleaf Bar

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Hopleaf has made Andersonville a destination with good Belgian-style pub food and great beer — and no TVs. Owner Michael Roper offers a craft beer selection great enough to satisfy any beer nerd, but the interiors are comfortable enough to make any patron happy.

Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Green Mill Cocktail Lounge

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Famous for being Al Capone's former stomping grounds — complete with legendary subterranean pathways where the infamous mob boss used to run booze — the Green Mill in Uptown is a classic tavern for music and a stiff drink. They don’t make bars like this anymore with a rich interior that echoes the venue’s past. The bar has opened up its window, allowing patrons to sit on the sidewalk for outdoor seating.

Carol's Pub

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After a two-year slumber, Carol’s Pub, returned to Uptown with a new owner, fresh interiors, and a bonafide food menu. The refresh proved controversial for the bar that continues to host live music. The bar still retains much of its charm, minus some of the smoke damage from years and years of cigarettes. Customers still dance the night away until 5 a.m. on Saturdays as live country bands provide the soundtrack.

Carol’s Pub
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Long Room Chicago

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The Long Room doesn’t have the most creative name — it’s literally a long, narrow room along Irving Park. But owner Jason Burrell and his team have creative that type of tavern where the good times are never in short supply. It wasn’t possible for this unique space to operate during COVID-19, the bar was too small. But with management plotting to reopen soon, look for a great beer list, classic cocktails, and warm service.

Nisei Lounge

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Wrigleyville can be daunting during the summer with tourists and baseball fans crowding Clark Street making parking an impossible mission. Locals take the Red Line and stay away from the main drag, looking for shelter at bar like Nisei Lounge, which has spent nearly seven decades in the shadow of Wrigley. They were the first dive bar to be on Tock, the reservation system used by fine dining restaurants. Don’t let that association fool you — the bartenders service up shots, beers, and this might be the best place to enjoy malört. There are pool tables, friendly faces, and a mix of people who care about baseball and those who couldn’t care less.

Logan Arcade

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Arguably the best of the city's arcade bars stands in Logan Square at the corner of Western and Fullerton. The converted hardware store sports an eclectic craft beer selection. The gaming aspect isn't an afterthought. There's an excellent mix of vintage cabinets, as well as newer games like Killer Queen.

Map Room

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There was a time when Guinness was the only option for a craft beer option in a town with draft handles dominated by big beer companies. The Map Room, when it opened in 1992, was a refreshing change. With a “traveler theme” — the shelves are full of travel magazines like National Geographic, the beer list includes selections from all over the world. As American breweries gained traction, management weaved local options in as well. 

Scofflaw

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Originally known for its gin focus, Scofflaw was at the forefront of the current Logan Square bar boom for a variety of reasons: fantastic cocktails at affordable prices, standout upscale bar food, and great crowds. Don’t forget about those late-night cookies.

Marc Much/Eater Chicago

The Hideout

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A den to counter culture, the Hideout is hidden between Lincoln Park and Bucktown in the area what developers are calling the Elston Industrial Corridor. It’s a civic-minded bar with a performance venue for concerts, stand-up comics, and newsy talk shows. Late night, find 20-something hipsters dancing the night away. Earlier, find the colorful, older customers lamenting the times when they had youth on their sides. Beer and simple drinks reign here as ownership hopes the looming Lincoln Yards development won’t kill tradition.

The Hideout is a performance venue that goes beyond just a simple bar.
The Hideout [Official Photo]

Old Town Ale House

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This late-night den was a favorite of the late Anthony Bourdain who filmed several TV segments here as it’s the antithesis of many of the yuppie Old Town bars around the corner on Wells. The dive sports inappropriate paintings of Chicago history, including depictions of incarcerated ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich and is a destination for many, drawing a diverse group of patrons from all walks of life. Keep the drink orders simple.

A character leaning on a light pole in front of a bar.
Old Town Ale House’s Bruce Elliot in front of his bar.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

The Violet Hour

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This hidden drinking destination is widely credited with kicking off the mixology renaissance in Chicago and is a must-visit for Windy City newbies. It thrives on quiet sophistication (do read the house rules), a fantastic ever-changing menu, and is a breeding ground for local talent. Look for a massive mural outside — there's no sign — as well as a line on the sidewalk.

Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Sportsman's Club

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Sportsman's Club is a template for a new wave of reborn neighborhood dive bars with cocktails and beer selections that rival some of the country's best. Do take a shot from the in-house amaro machine while chatting up the chef and industry crowd, or play a game of chess on the boards built into the tables, or relax on the expansive backyard patio.

Marc Much/Eater Chicago

Matchbox Bar

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The city’s smallest bar packs a lot of fun into a tiny space. The bar side of the Silver Palm (the restaurant carved from a repurposed train car) has great cocktails, a surprisingly strong beer list, and a staff that treats customers right. Obviously, this place isn’t for big groups, but for folks who want to catch up in small parties, Matchbox hits all the right marks.

Three Dots and a Dash

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Before Lost Lake became the apple of Chicago’s eye, bartender Paul McGee worked with Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises on this basement tiki bar where patrons enter through a River North alley. Tropical vibes are prevalent, even in the middle of a frigid winter day. The bar is a popular after-work stop in Downtown Chicago, and there’s also a bar within the bar for a more intimate experience. Unlike Lost Lake, LEYE hasn’t addressed tiki’s complicated past, as it’s still known as a “speakeasy tiki bar.”

Marc Much/Eater Chicago

Rossi's

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River North has mutated over the years, angled at tourists rather than locals. There are a few exceptions, and Rossi’s, the charming hole in the wall near House of Blues, has endured. The bartenders are friendly. The customers aren’t snobby. The coolers are full of local beer, and not just the big names, there’s variety. When you’re finished pretending Hubbard Street is the Vegas Strip, hang out with the grownups at Rossi’s.

A dive bar’s exterior.
Rossi’s endures.
Ashok Selvam/Eater Chicago

The Aviary

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From the owners of Alinea, the Aviary takes chef Grant Achatz’s approach to molecular gastronomy and applies it to beverages. That might be off putting to dive bar lovers, but the result is a bar with vintage spirits, unique cocktails, and prices that make the well-to-do feel like they’re spending their money on something worthy. For pure cocktail fans, the presentation, glassware, and whimsical approach to beverages is worth scoring a reservation. There’s also a more exclusive space, the Office, located downstairs.

Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

From a national perspective, Chicago sometimes gets ignored for its innovative side. There’s plenty of talented people creating culinary cool, and Julia Momose and her team at Kumiko are the forefront. A sibling to Oriole, a two-Michelin-starred fine dining restaurant, Kumiko takes inspiration Japan (Momose is Japanese American), with a deep whisky list. But the highlights are the cocktails, carefully prepared and with top-notch ingredients. When the bar reboots for indoor service, Momose will once again offer her drink flights where bartenders create custom cocktails for customers. It’s like watching a story unfold, and something drinkers can’t find anywhere else in the country.

A highball glass filled with a cocktail.
Kumiko has creative drinks.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Chicago Athletic Association

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This reborn hotel on Michigan Avenue is already one of the biggest draws in Chicago thanks to a gorgeous restoration and multiple acclaimed spots to eat and drink: perhaps Chicago's best rooftop bar (Cindy's); a rec room with bocce courts, other table games, pitchers of beer and good, quick cocktails (Game Room); a historic full restaurant and large bar (Cherry Circle Room); and one of the most unique and creative drinking spots in town, the tasting menu-esque Milk Room.

Marc Much/Eater Chicago

The Gage

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This Irish stalwart in prime real estate downtown is where it's at for people in the Loop or walking down Michigan Avenue. Impeccably run with a beautiful design, the Gage is always a massive hit for after-work drinks and great Irish food, and a mix of tourists, professionals, and people taking in downtown attractions.

The Gage’s main bar
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Buddy Guy's Legends

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Legendary musician Buddy Guy opened this club in 1989 in the South Loop and it’s become one of the most venerable places to hear blues and jazz in the country. It serves Cajun and soul food, and a beer named after Guy: Buddy’s Brew. Celebrities are known to show up to jam or even quietly take in a show.

M Lounge

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South Loop is a neighborhood that has yet to hit its stride when it comes to carving out a unique identity. But M Lounge, which has been around since 2006, has stood out with martinis, live music, and a come-as-you-are vibe. 

Thalia Hall

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Thalia Hall is a historic music venue, a massive building along 18th Street in Pilsen, that’s owned by 16” on Center, a company that runs venues like Promontory Hall in Hyde Park and Empty Bottle in Ukrainian Village. The building also houses Punch House, a lower-level ‘70s chic bar where patrons by drinks by the punch bowl. Then there’s Tack Room, a piano bar that dabbles in things like punk rock karaoke. Main restaurant Dusek’s with its craft beer list rounds out the total drinking experience.

Osito's Tap

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Osito’s Tap is an outgrowth of Moreno’s Liquors, a family-owned store in Little Village. The bar offers a deep beer list with plenty of rare releases to satisfy craft fans, and the cocktails push the envelope using techniques and ingredients that prove that mixologists at upscale downtown bars aren’t the only ones who can’t enjoy a fancy drinks.

A lavish drink with ancho and blood orange.
Osito’s Tap features ancho and blood orange in drinks.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Maria's Packaged Goods & Community Bar

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Maria’s has served Bridgeport well in various capacities. It’s a small liquor stores with a mighty beer selection. Walk by the cashier and pass through two bars with old-school charm. Find a deep beer selection, classic cocktails, and even beer from the owners’ brewery, Marz. Food comes from Kimski, the Ko-Po fusion spot the meshes Korean and Polish, and Pizza Fried Chicken Ice Cream.

Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar [Official Photo]

Bernice's Tavern

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Since the 1930s, this Bridgeport bar has been serving beer and shots to a customer base that fawns over this low-ceilinged space. Current ownership, the Badauskas family, took over the bar the 1950s. This charming corner bar even has an open mic for musicians.

Woodlawn Tap

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Locals still tell friends to meet them at “Jimmy’s” the name of the the bar’s former owner (Jimmy Wilson died in 1999). Regardless, this tried and true dive bar has provided a meeting point for generations of college students, professors, and Hyde Park residents. Pitchers of beer are popular here as are the burgers. An affordable spot that caters to the University of Chicago’s community.

Jeffery Pub

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Chicago’s oldest LGBTQ bar resides on the South Shore. Since the 1960s, Jeffery Pub has serve patrons bright-colored cocktails while giving them the space to cut loose. Look for DJs and other entertainment at this venerable venue.

Nobody's Darling

A rainbow flag hangs over the glass door of a narrow bar
Nobody’s Darling in a winner.
Garrett Sweet/Eater Chicago

In short notice, Nobody’s Darling has carved itself a space in Chicago’s nightlife. The tavern itself lacks modern bells and whistles, but it’s the welcoming atmosphere, one that embraces the LGBTQ community and its allies, that makes the bar special. The narrow space is often boisterous on weekends with patrons ordering enjoying cocktails and beer. The bar was a finalist for the 2022 James Beard Award for Outstanding Bar Program.

A rainbow flag hangs over the glass door of a narrow bar
Nobody’s Darling in a winner.
Garrett Sweet/Eater Chicago

Hopleaf Bar

Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Hopleaf has made Andersonville a destination with good Belgian-style pub food and great beer — and no TVs. Owner Michael Roper offers a craft beer selection great enough to satisfy any beer nerd, but the interiors are comfortable enough to make any patron happy.

Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Green Mill Cocktail Lounge

Famous for being Al Capone's former stomping grounds — complete with legendary subterranean pathways where the infamous mob boss used to run booze — the Green Mill in Uptown is a classic tavern for music and a stiff drink. They don’t make bars like this anymore with a rich interior that echoes the venue’s past. The bar has opened up its window, allowing patrons to sit on the sidewalk for outdoor seating.

Carol's Pub

Carol’s Pub
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

After a two-year slumber, Carol’s Pub, returned to Uptown with a new owner, fresh interiors, and a bonafide food menu. The refresh proved controversial for the bar that continues to host live music. The bar still retains much of its charm, minus some of the smoke damage from years and years of cigarettes. Customers still dance the night away until 5 a.m. on Saturdays as live country bands provide the soundtrack.

Carol’s Pub
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Long Room Chicago

The Long Room doesn’t have the most creative name — it’s literally a long, narrow room along Irving Park. But owner Jason Burrell and his team have creative that type of tavern where the good times are never in short supply. It wasn’t possible for this unique space to operate during COVID-19, the bar was too small. But with management plotting to reopen soon, look for a great beer list, classic cocktails, and warm service.

Nisei Lounge

Wrigleyville can be daunting during the summer with tourists and baseball fans crowding Clark Street making parking an impossible mission. Locals take the Red Line and stay away from the main drag, looking for shelter at bar like Nisei Lounge, which has spent nearly seven decades in the shadow of Wrigley. They were the first dive bar to be on Tock, the reservation system used by fine dining restaurants. Don’t let that association fool you — the bartenders service up shots, beers, and this might be the best place to enjoy malört. There are pool tables, friendly faces, and a mix of people who care about baseball and those who couldn’t care less.

Logan Arcade

Arguably the best of the city's arcade bars stands in Logan Square at the corner of Western and Fullerton. The converted hardware store sports an eclectic craft beer selection. The gaming aspect isn't an afterthought. There's an excellent mix of vintage cabinets, as well as newer games like Killer Queen.

Map Room

There was a time when Guinness was the only option for a craft beer option in a town with draft handles dominated by big beer companies. The Map Room, when it opened in 1992, was a refreshing change. With a “traveler theme” — the shelves are full of travel magazines like National Geographic, the beer list includes selections from all over the world. As American breweries gained traction, management weaved local options in as well. 

Scofflaw

Marc Much/Eater Chicago

Originally known for its gin focus, Scofflaw was at the forefront of the current Logan Square bar boom for a variety of reasons: fantastic cocktails at affordable prices, standout upscale bar food, and great crowds. Don’t forget about those late-night cookies.

Marc Much/Eater Chicago

The Hideout

The Hideout is a performance venue that goes beyond just a simple bar.
The Hideout [Official Photo]

A den to counter culture, the Hideout is hidden between Lincoln Park and Bucktown in the area what developers are calling the Elston Industrial Corridor. It’s a civic-minded bar with a performance venue for concerts, stand-up comics, and newsy talk shows. Late night, find 20-something hipsters dancing the night away. Earlier, find the colorful, older customers lamenting the times when they had youth on their sides. Beer and simple drinks reign here as ownership hopes the looming Lincoln Yards development won’t kill tradition.

The Hideout is a performance venue that goes beyond just a simple bar.
The Hideout [Official Photo]

Old Town Ale House

A character leaning on a light pole in front of a bar.
Old Town Ale House’s Bruce Elliot in front of his bar.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

This late-night den was a favorite of the late Anthony Bourdain who filmed several TV segments here as it’s the antithesis of many of the yuppie Old Town bars around the corner on Wells. The dive sports inappropriate paintings of Chicago history, including depictions of incarcerated ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich and is a destination for many, drawing a diverse group of patrons from all walks of life. Keep the drink orders simple.