Chicago’s tavern culture helps makes this city special, and dive bars play an important part. The best of the city’s dives provide a comfortable, welcoming place for people to gather for a quick drink or an entire afternoon or evening, no matter what they’re wearing or how much money they have in their bank accounts — though there may be judgment for sports alliances. Though cheap canned beer still is the classic beverage of choice, Chicago’s beer culture has changed — it’s now considered acceptable to drink an IPA with extra hops or a pumpkin peach ale at a neighborhood watering hole. Just accept a shot of malört if it’s offered and everyone can be friends.Read More
Chicago’s Essential Dive Bars
Where the malort pours freely and the good times never end
The cozy cash-only spot on the border of Rogers Park and Edgewater has a wide selection of beers in cans, a decent pool table, and TVs kept at a manageable volume so customers can actually engage in conversation while they keep an eye on the game. It also houses one of the best collections of Chicago history ephemera outside a museum, most notably a clock promoting the election of Richard J. Daley as the city’s mayor. If you go, lift a glass to owner Steve Cunneen, whose 2022 death left a void in the neighborhood.
Every neighborhood has its favorite dive bar, easily identified by the Old Style sign hanging outside, and the Sovereign is Edgewater’s. The beer is cheap (and available for purchase in six packs), the vibe is friendly, and the jukebox is great. What more does anybody need?
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One of the preeminent dives in the city, Simon’s Tavern is a beer-and-a-shot kind of place but at Christmastime, it gets into the Andersonville Swedish holiday spirit with glogg (warm mulled wine). There’s also a classic jukebox that features an impressive collection of tunes, plus occasional live music.
Carol’s is the last honky tonk in Chicago, a remnant of the population that migrated to Uptown from Appalachia in the 1960s. Now there’s live country-western music and a menu loaded with Kentucky bourbon and also fried bologna sandwiches, but make no mistake: the beer in cans and the 4 a.m. closing time mean it’s a dive.
The North End
A gayborhood staple since 1983 and one of the more low-key options on North Halsted, North End has all the components that make up the best dive bars: a pool table, a dartboard, plenty of TVs, a modest beer selection that includes a few locally made craft options, and a friendly atmosphere.
Yes, one of Chicago's best dive bars is just steps from Wrigley Field. Although fans can watch Cubs games at the self-proclaimed "oldest bar in Wrigleyville," Nisei Lounge is known for its delightfully no-frills atmosphere, cheap Old Style cans, free darts and board games, and creative seasonal cocktails, many of which involve unusual uses of malört.
This Prohibition-era tavern is a favorite last-call destination in Lakeview. It carries one of the largest Irish whiskey collections in the city. There are also rumors that murderers like John Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dahmer hung out at the bar.
Crews from Avondale restaurants like Kuma’s Corner, Honey Butter Fried Chicken, and Parachute descend on Reed’s Local after hours (the name comes from the owner’s support of unions), the spiritual successor to Club Foot, the beloved dive bar full of pop culture trinkets that closed in Ukrainian Village years ago. Reed’s took the old bar space and rehabbed it, but it kept the Tetris machine from Club Foot, among other souvenirs, and the older bar’s spirit. This is a place for a cheap beer and some fun chatter.
This two-level bar draws lovers of punk, goth, and metal music to an unlikely counter culture center in normally basic Lincoln Park. The bar’s selection including the usual suspect of canned domestics, but there’s a real deep selection of whiskies, and owner Mike Miller also raves about his wines by the glass.
Liar’s Club lies in the pocket of Chicago between Lincoln Park and Bucktown. This two-floor hole in the wall is allegedly haunted by the ghost of a woman murdered in the apartment above the bar. Scenesters, med students, and random passersby hang out for the music, cheap drinks, and cool characters.
Logan Square has no shortage of dive bars, but few offer the charm of Whirlaway, allegedly named for the horse the original owners bet on to win enough money to open. Longtime co-owner Maria Jaimes will happily pour customers a beer or a shot of whiskey. The bar also has quite a Blackhawk fan following.
This Logan Square dive has a laid-back vibe. It’s a quintessential “old person’s bar” with a juke box, pool table, and plenty of shots and canned beer. It’s also a great place to introduce visitors to the wonderful world of malort. Sports fans should be warned: the Bob Inn is a rare North Side White Sox bar.
A Logan Square staple since 1984, Rosa’s Lounge is known for live blues music Wednesday through Sunday. It’s a dimly lit space with a customer mix of those visiting to see bands and locals just wanting a cold drink. Drinks are cheap and people are friendly.
Old Town Ale House
The Old Town Ale House is a slice of Chicago history. They don’t make dives like this anymore. A staple in Old Town since the 1950s since the neighborhood was a bohemian hangout, the bar features portraits of a few famous folks, including some regulars, all painted by owner Bruce Elliot, and a lending library for bookworms.
Come for the open mic nights and stay for the grunginess. The Innertown Pub has the look and feel of an old-time joint with its colorful décor and ’60s artwork. The basic beer selection is cheap, and the free pool table and dartboards will keep drinkers entertained until the wee hours.
Archie's Iowa & Rockwell Tavern
Archie’s is a charming longtime Humboldt Park dive. It’s also an industry favorite that really ramps up for holidays, and dogs are welcome. The bottled beer selection in the cooler is deep and goes beyond the typical dive bar beer list.
The Chipp Inn is a favorite for after-hours industry folks in West Town because of its cheap beer and popular — although its smaller than regulation size — pool table. The place dates back to 1897 and not many improvements have been made since then, as evident by the wood bar, ornate tin ceiling and mismatched folding furniture.
Rossi’s is one of the only true dives left in River North (along with Snickers). It’s an incredibly friendly and tiny space in the shadow of the House of Blues. The coolers in the back stock a nice selection of craft beer. Feel free to grab one and walk over to the bartender who’s armed with a bottle opener. This is the bar to take transplants and picky people who don’t think they like dive bars. Teach them a valuable lesson.
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While Pilsen may be rapidly changing with an influx of entrepreneurs and artists reviving the neighborhood, Skylark remains the same. The bar strives to be part of the community, and there’s a solid menu of tater tots and other bar food. This is the bar Jon Favreu’s character owned in the movie The Break Up. In July 2023, co-owners put Skylark and its building up for sale, telling reporters that they’re seeking a buyer who will keep the bar open.
Bernice’s, a hidden spot in Bridgeport, is small, dark, and cozy. Tunes ring out from the jukebox, and Mike, the bartender, will ensure you’re well taken care of. The place is crawling with locals but don’t worry, staff will still buzz (yes, buzz) customers in through the doors even if they’re not from the neighborhood.
Shinnick’s Pub has a storied history, as the same family has owned it for four generations now. It’s a favorite of White Sox faithful due to the proximity to Sox Park and a time capsule of old-school Chicago drinking culture when bars were considered community beacons. This is a warm beer and shot kind of place.
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Falcon Inn brings in a mixture of Hyde Park locals and University of Chicago students for cheap pitchers of domestic beer, though the “over 23 and up” sign may scare off the college kids. Find sustenance nearby at neighbor Cholie’s Pizza.
No longer known as Jimmy’s Woodlawn Tap (founder Jimmy Wilson died in 1999), this bar — which dates back to 1948 — is a classic Chicago tavern. Friendly bartenders, live music, and a location near the University of Chicago bring in a cool cast of customers. Despite Wilson’s absence, most customers still call the bar “Jimmy’s.” Prolific author Kurt Vonnegut was once a regular.
Mr C's Midway Bar Inc
Mr C’s is so close to Midway Airport, travelers on a layover could conceivably pop in for a drink or two before boarding the plane to their next destination. While they’re there, they’ll get a chance to hang out with the locals in a classic dive: true Chicago bragging rights.
J & R's Lounge
This tiny, bright red hole in the wall is a Chatham neighborhood hangout. The pours are generous, the prices are reasonable, and the jukebox plays Prince and the Jackson 5. It’s clear why people keep coming back.