Cocktails can be a polarizing topic in Chicago. There's the old guard who prefers the classics; whose hairs on their backs bristle when they hear the word "mixologist." Then there's the new wave of bar patrons; the ones raised on a steady cocktail diet of infused spirits and fancy ice who want their bartender to put on a show while mixing up their drink. Good thing Chicago has a delightful mix of bars where both factions can find common ground.Read More
Every Important Cocktail Bar in Chicago
The 20 cocktail spots that Chicagoans and tourists need to immediately visit
1. The Sixth
A sophisticated cocktail lounge and neighborhood bar in one, the Sixth in Lincoln Square is the kind of spot most Chicagoans want in their ‘hood. It's also a playful experience with drinks based on the Trix cereal rabbit and the "Calvin and Hobbes" comic strip and other killer cocktails that force guests to leave their comfort zones.
Upscale cocktail enthusiasts are now joining Cubs fans to drink in Wrigleyville thanks to Eater Chicago’s reigning bar of the year. Mordecai, from the team behind Logan Square stalwart Billy Sunday, is a cocktail and whiskey lover’s delight next to Wrigley Field with one of America’s largest brown liquor lineups. A second bar named Hush Money lives upstairs and has a breezy terrace with Wrigley views, and a standout food menu is also available.
3. Lost Lake
Paul McGee took his tiki inspiration from Three Dots and a Dash to this icon, the much less bombastic Lost Lake. The drinks are just as good, a little more experimental, and the crowd less touristy, resulting a multiple James Beard Award nominee.
4. Billy Sunday
Matthias Merges' cocktail bar is a sophisticated standout with throwback decor and easily some of Chicago's best drinks in the heart of Logan Square.
5. Todos Santos
A large array of mezcal and mezcal cocktails are the draw at this dim subterranean spot underneath acclaimed Logan Square Mexican restaurant Quiote. The man behind shuttered Mezcaleria Las Flores and former Rick Bayless beverage director brings his expertise here, resulting in perhaps the best Chicago bar to taste a variety of spirits from south of the border.
6. The Whistler
Originally supposed to be only an art gallery, the Whistler accidentally became one of Chicago's best cocktail bars with the hiring of Paul McGee a decade ago. The Logan Square legend became a breeding ground of top up-and-coming cocktail talent and a haven for counterculture art and music, a place where people can be just as comfortable ordering a serious cocktail or a cheap PBR tallboy and letting loose however they please.
The cornerstone of a burgeoning Logan Square powerhouse group, Scofflaw is known for its focus on gin but is much more than that with great, affordable cocktails (most are $8), shabby-chic Victorian-esque decor, its own version of Malort, standout bar food, and free fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies every midnight.
8. Weegee's Lounge
This under-the-radar throwback bar on Armitage Avenue has one of the deepest, classic-focused cocktail menus in Chicago. Adding in a professional staff, quiet conversation-focused ambience, and a terrific back patio makes it an essential.
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9. The Violet Hour
In many ways the forefather of Chicago's new wave of cocktail bars, One Off Hospitality's (Blackbird, Avec, Publican) elegant bar is quiet, candlelight-only with tall secluded seats where patrons have quiet conversations and sip some of the best cocktails in the country off a seasonal menu. A 2015 James Beard Award winner, lines regularly form in Wicker Park at an entrance marked only with a regularly-changing wall mural.
The velvet-laden speakeasy-style bar above Spanish restaurant Black Bull gives the Wicker Park/Ukrainian Village border a sultry playground with creative cocktails, porrons, and live music. Expect some of Chicago's best barkeeps to moonlight here and some of the best people-watching in town.
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11. Sportsman's Club
Chicago's greatest industry bar, Sportsman's Club is also notable for its amaro machine, a daily-changing blackboard menu, and standout design with chess and checkers sets built into tables and a large backyard. Situated on Western Avenue's Ukrainian Village/Humboldt Park border, its part of ownership's plan to revitalize Chicago's neighborhood tavern culture.
12. The Matchbox
Known as Chicago's tiniest bar, the narrow sidecar-esque spot has some of the best deals on some of the best throwback classic cocktails in town. Patrons can order a beer and a shot or a more modern drink, but they often kick themselves for not getting a martini or a Manhattan where the shaker and martini glass are delivered to you and amount to two drinks in one.
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13. The Drifter
Enter through a speakeasy entrance below the historic Green Door Tavern to one of Chicago's most-unique unique drinking experiences. A nightly-changing menu of cocktails printed on tarot cards and fascinating entertainers randomly taking the small stage happen amidst a time capsule decor that was once home to bootleggers during prohibition, and the space still shows it.
14. Sable Kitchen & Bar
Technically a hotel bar and restaurant, Sable holds a dear place in Chicago cocktail enthusiast's hearts for classy, well-made, interesting cocktails downtown.
15. Bar Sótano
Chicago, IL 60654
One of America’s most celebrated chefs has opened his first bar, a subterranean spot where customers enter through an alley entrance. At Bar Sótano, Rick Bayless and daughter Lanie Bayless give tourist-ridden River North a little bit of an edge. There’s a plenty of fine mezcal to sip inside the space underneath Bayless’s Frontera Grill, although the big draws are the unorthodox drinks, some of them based on classic Mexican dishes. For example, customers could order a a mezcal-based guacamole cocktail mixed with cilantro, avocado, and a tomatillo-chili syrup. Being a Bayless spot, the restaurant also has a full food menu.
16. Three Dots and a Dash
Step through a back alley entrance into a portal to one of America's best-built tiki bars. Paul McGee may have moved on from the bar he designed and inspired, but fantastic drinks, custom mugs, and an otherwordly ambience remain.
17. The Aviary
The progressive cocktail bar from Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas showcases some of the most forward-thinking drinks in the world. "Cocktail chefs" mix rare ingredients inside a cage-like cocktail kitchen using custom-made ice crafted by "ice chefs" in an ice room. There's also the small "speakeasy" downstairs, the Office, known for its small menu and rare spirits.
One of Chicago’s most unique drinking destinations, Kumiko offers Japanese-style cocktails, bites, and decor with fine-dining pedigree from beverage wizard Julia Momose and team from two-Michelin-starred Oriole. Patrons can choose their own adventure with ultra-creative drinks like the very popular “Sea Flower” (Nikka Coffey gin, Drapò vermouth bianco, Yuzu Koshō, Kabosu and lime with an “ocean dust” rim) or opt for coursed-out omakase cocktail tastings, as well as terrific bar snacks like addictive tempura prawns. Reservations are recommended.
The people behind this West Loop venture think of it as a regular bar first. And although it features a come-as-you-are vibe, make no mistake that it serves some of Chicago's most high-caliber cocktails in ramped-up classics — Long Island iced teas and the like didn't taste this good before. There's also a massive backyard patio with bocce that it shares with sister restaurant Saint Lou's Assembly next door.
20. Milk Room
Drinkers feel special upon scoring tickets inside this exclusive bar inside the Chicago Athletic Association hotel. Patrons need reservations to score one of the eight seats, making Milk Room a unique experience that features perfectly-balanced classic cocktails and an extensive selection of hard-to-find spirits in a multi-course prix fixe format with snacks. This is all coupled with knowledgable bartenders who educate patrons.