Near North Side
Rent out this private ski lounge with your idiot friends
Bunny Slope quite hilariously bills itself as “Chicago’s #1 Apres Ski Lounge,” as if there were a ton of competition in this particular category. Nevertheless, the space is as unique as it sounds, with all of the action centered around an inviting indoor hot tub located in the basement of the Acme Hotel. The small space decked out with all the après ski accouterments including skis, antlers, electric fireplace, and liability release forms (seriously) is only available to be rented out by private parties of up to 18. But can you think of a better reason to hit up 18 of your favorite randoms on Facebook?
A laid-back godsend to a neighborhood in need
Hot damn, people just flat-out love this place. This is an indisputable fact. Maybe it’s due to the $2.50 Hamm’s. Maybe it’s due to the fact that it not too long ago opened in a hood with few cool bar options. Maybe it’s the laid-back vibes, the coffee, the comfy booths, or the clutch location near the last Brown Line stop. Whatever it is, it’s a godsend to Albany Park and the locals couldn’t be happier. Nothing fancy, nothing gimmicky, just everything you need in a solid neighborhood hang. Even attracts some non-locals as well.
Neighborhood-y wine bar right from the streets of Europe
This neighborhood wine bar continues to be popular with the more-buttoned up set around Edgewater, where fancy eats like coq au vin and pork shoulder rillettes are made to be paired with their standout selection of Euro-centric wines and bubbly. Grab a Dovetail lager or the gin-based Income Tax cocktail with friends and chat for hours amidst exposed brick and soft lighting that will make you feel like you’ve stumbled in from some lost cobblestone street in Europe. You’ll have a hard time stumbling out…especially because you’ll never want to leave.
The mescal boom continues apace in Logan Square
Just when you start to wonder about the longevity of the Logan Square mescal boom, you walk into Quiote, and it’s as packed as always. Hot on the heels of the success of forebears like Lena Brava and the recently closed Mezcaleria Las Flores, Logan Square’s latest mescal bar and taqueria aggressively covers all of your agave bases with mescal martinis and Old Fashioneds in a lively space that feels like a sexy basement party. So follow the glowing green agave sign and belly up with a plate of crab tostadas and a Hotel Victoria mescal/tequila cocktail. No use fighting it, kid.
Saucy Cantonese delights in Chicago’s new Red Light District
Chicago has a new Red Light District. And it starts and ends in the back of the bakery next to Fat Rice, where a small red-lit room of saucy Cantonese delights tugs at the heartstrings with vintage Asian pinup art on the walls, games on the tables, drinks out of glass Buddhas, and flaming bowls of booze like the Burnt Bird. The intimate space only seats about 20, so you’ll need a reservation. Might we suggest the crucial third date with that cute new co-worker? Hard to find a better closing act in the city.
Your go-to for rooftop curling this winter
It’s almost time for the Winter Olympics, which means it’s almost time for curling. But you don’t have to fly to South Korea to see winter’s most enduring old man sport in action. Instead, hustle up to the fifth floor at The Gwen and chuck some rocks at the new outdoor curling rink on Upstairs at The Gwen’s rooftop terrace. In addition to group play from 11am to 11pm daily, there’s outdoor fireplaces and fancy cocktails like the Chicago Picasso infused with mellow corn, rye, sherry, and burnt brown sugar served in a smoked glass. See, it was only a matter of time before someone invented a curling drinking game.
Drinking igloos and a log cabin on a stylish rooftop
If you’re less of a shuffling on ice and more of a drinking in an igloo type, I|O Godfrey’s rooftop lounge has got you covered (literally) with a handsome collection of see-through heated domes for you to sip hot drinks like the Jameson and heat-infused Godfrey Toddy in style as you admire the view from one of Chicago’s finest winter rooftops. If that’s not enough and you’re still itching for a break from the “same old” rooftop scene, this year’s “Winter Wonderland” at the hotel also includes a new rooftop log cabin where you can share $2,400 bottles of Dom Perignon with the rest of Santa’s little helpers in an awesomely unorthodox setting.
An enchanted forest 22 floors above downtown
One of the snazziest new openings in recent years is LondonHouse, which made quite a splash when it opened in a historic 1920s building at Wacker and Michigan in 2016. This winter, the hotel takes things to a new level with its “Enchanted Forest” of lit-up pine trees giving the tri-level rooftop a wintry woodland vibe paired with one of the most spectacular views of the city from its 22nd-floor rooftop playpen. Nosh on lobster rolls and foie gras “Twix” bars with the aid of blankets and outdoor heaters by night, or stop by the next morning for Nutella crepes and short rib omelets for brunch. Is it too early to start drinking?
A wine bar that doesn’t make you want to roll your eyes
Recently opened in the 108-year-old Free Methodist Publishing House building that once housed a casket factory in the West Loop, this intimate 70-seat wine bar offers a relaxed vibe and cozy clubhouse feel that’s already made it a Chicago winter bar favorite. Located in the basement of The Publishing House B&B with a massive yet unpretentious list of 60+ wines as well as small plates like caviar and lamb meatballs, it’s the perfect place to learn about wine without feeling like you’re being forced to sit through a class taught by insufferable wine snobs. Instead, further your education the right way: by drinking.
A stunner for absinthe cocktails and worldly epicurean cuisine
With a bohemian ‘50s vibe and opulent chandeliers that help make it one by the most visually stunning new openings in recent memory, this latest offering from Bonhomme Hospitality Group (Celeste, Bordel, Fulton Market Kitchen) continues to turn heads along with a head-spinning collection of drinks from group beverage director Liz Pearce (also known as one of the top bartenders in the city.) This worldly space opened in a former clothing store houses antique doors and façades circa 1900 while the menu explodes with epicurean delights like roasted Lebanese style lamb and 10-day dry-aged pluma ibérica. Drinks include boozy slushies such as the absinthe-packed Eaaaaasy Tiger and the shaken Melange of Modern Cultures cocktail with green chili vodka, mescal, celery, lime, and walnut.
If Frank Lloyd Wright opened a bar...
If you’ve never been to a Frank Lloyd Wright bar, now’s your chance. The latest hit from Heisler Hospitality (Barrelhouse Flat, Lone Wolf, Queen Mary) is inspired by the famed architect and showcases a minimalist vibe with the help of James Beard Award-winning bartender and Chicago native Jim Meehan (of New York’s PDT and author of Meehan’s Bartender Manual.) Yet the immaculate space leans more toward Japan than Oak Park with a small but unsurprisingly excellent menu of rotating cocktails including The Sun Also Sets (with apple brandy, egg white, and cherry bark vanilla bitters) and the Great Lakes Pumpkin Spirit-infused Flying Dutchman. On the nosh side, there’s bratwurst and duck pâté.
Edible paper butterflies and cocktails in mushroom glasses
What the hell ever happened to the old Vertigo Sky Lounge on the 26th floor of the Dana Hotel? You won’t care once you step into this always happening new spot from local bar star Benjamin Schiller featuring inventive large-format cocktails like the 1-UP (served with dehydrated blackberry) and a $15,000 bottle of Old Rip Van Winkle 25-Year (only one available). If you’d rather not drop $500 on bottle service, stick to individual cocktails like the Weston -- a bourbon, Dark Matter coffee, and tobacco creation -- or a Dragon’s Milk imperial stout. With drinks served in custom glassware showcasing hella-unique garnishes like edible paper butterflies, the beautiful 1,100-square-foot space also has a comfortable lawn section and fire pits.
Bike shop owners open a bar for classic cocktails and little fanfare
What the hell do bike shop owners know about bars? Turns out plenty. This incredibly cool cocktail bar from the owners of Heritage Bicycles is helping to put Uptown’s bar scene on the map in an intimate space of just 21 seats and vintage art to curate an old-timey vibe that feels like the kind of place your grandpa would slam bourbon before hopping on stage at the Green Mill to play backup sax in a burlesque band. Opening into the lobby at the Lawrence House, the classic hotel bar-inspired spot is serving old-school cocktails like Manhattans and Negronis with little fanfare in a space that feels like a speak-easy but isn’t trying too hard to be one.
Changing everything you know about 4am bars in Chicago
Redefining the 4am bar experience from puking on your shoes while grinding on strangers at The Beaumont to tipping back fine Italian wines, this newest addition from the Rockit crew is a late-night cocktail haven with nightly rotating pasta dishes and throwback mural art in a gleaming postwar Italy-style art deco space. Let Italian jazz and hip-hop soundtrack your evening as you sip Moretti on draft alongside drinks like the biscotti sour mixed with bitter almond and egg white. It’s OK to get a little tipsy here: Just don’t be a jerk about it. And be sure to save room for gelato.
Unleash your inner Sinatra at this swanky throwback
Throwing back to 1950s Hollywood, this luxurious space of sparkling chandeliers and plush circular booths looks like the kind of joint Sinatra might meet Marilyn for a late-night rendezvous (or where you can go to try and impress your idiot friends). Dinner involves everything from patty melts to $89 dry-aged bone-in rib-eye, while drinks clearly reinforce the vibe with names like Rebel Without a Cause and A Farewell to Arms. The wine list is deep and dessert is no joke, but whatever you do, don’t do it in a hurry. This is the kind of place that lures you in slowly... to the point when you suddenly look up at the clock and wonder why they’re closing. Then you realize you’ve been here for four hours.
When the going gets weird, the weird belly up here
One of the best openings of 2017 continues to bring the heat this winter at one of the most beautifully low-key yet stylish settings on the West Side. Best known for its culinary creations from chef Zoe Schor (formerly of Ada Street), Split-Rail is unfurling reimagined Midwestern comfort food creations with everything from lamb tartare and duck Bolognese to charred sirloin fajitas and loaded baked potato gnocchi. But there’s plenty to entertain here too if you’re just in the mood to booze. So sidle up to the bar (aka the cool kid’s table) and take down a rum-packed When the Going Gets Weird cocktail or go lowbrow with a bottle of Rolling Rock and shot of Evan Williams.
The bar in your most popular high school friend’s parents’ basement
Just when you thought Logan Square couldn’t possibly handle another new cocktail joint, the crew from Scofflaw Group went ahead and opened one of the most hard-to-hate bars in the city. They combined sexy dark woods and exposed brick to create a nostalgic, homey vibe that reminds you of your most popular high school friend’s parents’ basement. Snag a spot by the fireplace or a swivel chair at the bar before diving into a bar menu made famous by the Moonlighter burger and its standout mustard griddled patties. Drinks include 20 craft beer taps, $2 shots of rose, and pitchers of booze like the rye whiskey-fueled Bitter Ward.
Haircut and a speakeasy, my good sir?
Barbershop by day and cocktail bar/speak-easy by night, the recent Chicago opening of this concept (which debuted in New York in 2010) is easily one of the coolest places to get your haircut in the city. And while you can get a cocktail while you get your mane clipped, the real action takes place in the back room later in the evening with DJs, black-and-white checkerboard tiles, and funky sofas offering a friendly hangout vibe with the help of some serious elixirs. In addition to Old Style cans and they-pick-your-poison “grab bag” shots, there’s the Japanese whiskey drink With the Grain and Beefeater gin-backed Batman cocktails plus 12 (yes, 12) types of grilled cheese -- in addition to more out-there edible offerings like pastrami Reuben tacos and wasabi pea cheese curds.
Emporium expands its empire to Fulton Market
Despite the recent sooner-than-anticipated closing of their Stranger Things-inspired pop-up The Upside Down, it’s been another highly successful season for the indefatigable crew behind Chicago’s leading arcade bar as Emporium recently opened its third location in Fulton Market in the former Betty space. If you’ve been to Emporium, you know the drill: vintage arcade games, a deep craft beer list, and retro table games like foosball and air hockey. The only thing lacking here is the food, but feel free to bring your own from nearby restos like Kuma’s Corner and Cemitas Puebla. That BYOF policy comes in quite handy after several hours of Pac-Man and South Park pinball.
A taproom by the river from one of Chicago’s most iconic brewers
With new taprooms recently opening from a slate of local breweries including Half Acre, Open Outcry, and Off Color, Chicago seems to be in the midst of a taproom boom. But none are more spectacular than the first taproom recently opened at the Avondale complex of Metropolitan Brewing, where floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Chicago River make for an unrivaled local taproom experience. Salvaged woods and dependable beers from one of Chicago’s most beloved breweries in a large, airy space should be more than enough to keep you entertained. But if the conversation turns stale, you can always just stare out the window and enjoy the view.
Burgers by the fireplace and hot drinks infused with booze
Is there a more reliable winter bar than Moody’s Pub? This cozy Edgewater institution known for the Moodyburger and its castle-like décor that resembles the kind of place a medieval knight might hang out is what you think of when you think of a winter bar in Chicago. Not too much light, not too much noise, not too much nonsense. Just two roaring fireplaces, one of the best burgers in the city, and a stacked collection of winter drinking delights to combat the cold including the Moodymint (peppermint schnapps, hot chocolate, whipped cream) and Cinnamon Toast made with amaretto, hot cider, whipped cream, and sparkled cinnamon. It almost makes winter worth it. Almost.
Cheap beer and chicken nuggets with no gimmicks
The Logan Square bar scene is full of gimmicks. Deadbolt is not one of them. Much like the name suggests, it is instead a rather sturdy drinking outpost with an uncomplicated menu featuring cheap beer to the tune of Old Style and Miller High Life, classic cocktails like the Pisco Sour and Horse's Neck, and a food menu with omelets, griddled butter burgers, and hand-breaded chicken nuggets that will soak up your indiscretions. Opened by Dustin Drankiewicz (formerly of Moneygun), the former Two Way Lounge space feels modern yet retains much of the gritty edge of its beloved predecessor.