11 Best Bars Chicago Locals Don’t Want You to Know About

Courtesy of Map Room
Courtesy of Map Room

Chicago may be known as America’s “Second City” but the destination leads the way when it comes to its bustling bar scene. From lavish lounges to delightful dives, the Windy City has something for everyone. And while plenty of Chicago’s most popular watering holes regularly make headlines, there are even more hidden gems that have managed to keep a low-key profile. Here, 11 Chicago locals reveal their favorite tourist-free neighborhood spots to grab a cold brewski, craft cocktail or glass of wine.

Courtesy of WeeGee’s Lounge

"WeeGee's Lounge is this fantastically welcoming joint that feels simultaneously like a throwback cocktail lounge and a neighborhood dive, but the two elements are distilled perfectly into their own thing. Really, it's just a great place to drink—solid music, always just the right amount of crowded, and a well-maintained shuffleboard table, which we all know is the best bar game. If you feel like channeling Wisconsin a bit, get a Brandy Old Fashioned." — Matt Lynch, senior food editor at Thrillist

Courtesy of Hopleaf

“For some of the best beer in the city, you’ll have to travel away from the downtown scene and join the locals up north at the Hopleaf in Andersonville. An institution since 1992, the bar made the mom-and-pop-shop-filled neighborhood a destination with its vast list of craft beers that constantly changes, wines on tap and even some cider and mead. Pick one of the Belgian brews and pair it with the flavorful Blanche de Chambly-steamed mussels with frites.” — Jennifer Kester, executive editor at Forbes Travel Guide


Courtesy of The Drifter

“One of my favorites is hidden away right under your nose in the bustling River North neighborhood. The Drifter is a subterranean cocktail bar tucked below the very unassuming Green Door Tavern. The cocktails are always spot on (they're known for creative and fun menu design), the room is intimate, inviting and the staff is some of the most welcoming and talented in the city. To boot, they have a small stage that hosts everything from burlesque, to music, to kung fu movies throughout the evening. It’s a great getaway right in the heart of the city that operates with zero pretenses. Definitely one not to miss and something you don't just stumble upon without knowing its there.” — Charles Joly, founder of Crafthouse Cocktails (@charlesjoly)

Courtesy of The Sixth

“I'm normally a wine drinker, but for good (and affordable) cocktails without any pretension I love The Sixth in Lincoln Square. They have the best specialty ice program in town—and until they opened a few years ago, I didn't know ice was something you had a program for. Next door is great pizza at Roots if you need some carbs to soak up the booze.” — Amber Gibson, food and travel journalist (@amberyv)

Courtesy of Best Intentions

“There’s no shortage of hidden gem bars in Chicago, but the one I always recommend is the off the path, easy-going, and friendly cocktail lounge, Best Intentions in Logan Square. It’s owned by brothers Chris and Calvin Marty, veterans of the industry, both with whom I’ve tended bar at different joints over the years. It’s a favorite haunt for Chicago’s service industry and the vibe evolves as the night goes on—starting out with a few tired looking gents sipping a beer with a newspaper and ending with groups of people dancing and singing along by closing time. Sure, they sell out of High Life bottles every night, but these guys are well-versed in craft cocktails and will make any classic with precision and quality spirits.” — Sammy Faze, photographer and bartender (@sammyfaze)

Courtesy of Lost Lake

“You can't go wrong with a rum-based cocktail from Lost Lake. This tiki bar is located on the border of the Logan Square and Avondale neighborhoods. Guests feel immediately transported to the tropics with their banana leaf-printed interior and fruity concoctions complete with umbrellas and garnishes to match. While one drink alone may inspire you to do the hula, thankfully they serve an array of delicious dishes like rice bowls and pork dumplings to bring you back down to earth. My go-to cocktail is their namesake, Lost Lake, a mix of Jamaican rum, passion fruit, lime, pineapple, maraschino and Campari. Aloha!"  — Jennifer Lake, senior vice president of Zapwater Communications and founder of Style Charade

Courtesy of Map Room

“It’s easy to get lost in the Map Room. The beer bar doubles as a coffee shop, so you can start the day sipping bottomless cups of the dark stuff and then seamlessly transition into sipping Bosteels tripels and Lost Abbey sours. Locals consider it one of the defining drinking establishments in Chicago, and for good reason; since 1992 it’s been serving an impressive selection of local and imported drafts, with an emphasis on Belgian beers.” — Sarah Freeman, managing editor at October

Courtesy of The Franklin Room

“For a special occasion or swanky night on the town, The Franklin Room never disappoints. The Union Sushi team is behind this tavern-inspired River North spot, which is known for their selection of more than 300 different whiskey labels. But the bar is stocked with an impressive selection of other spirits, beers and wines as well. It’s hidden underground and has a really cool speakeasy vibe with exposed brick, parquet floors and plenty of mood lighting. To top it all off, their food menu is full of snacks, sandwiches, shared plates and larger entrees if hunger strikes.” — Ryan Howard, attorney

Courtesy of Innertown Pub

"Underneath a sign declaring this erstwhile neighborhood corner dive as ‘Home to the Arts,’ Innertown Pub excels at the fine art of drinking. A gruff red brick exterior gives way to a funky little dog-friendly space illuminated by a few strings of Christmas lights and decked out with oddities like a giant Elvis and fake Mona Lisa on the wall, with a few tables scattered atop its red and white checkerboard tile floor. Chat up neighborhood locals in the friendly front bar space or shoot some pool on the one table in back as you feed the jukebox hipster-approved jams from LCD Soundsystem or classic hits from the Rolling Stones. Once in a while there's a live band or comic, but most of the time it's your laid-back, reliable go-to for everything you need in a local dive bar: cheap booze, questionable bathrooms, strange unidentified odors, and unmistakable character." — Jay Gentile, freelancer at Thrillist and the Chicago Tribune

Courtesy of Zebra Lounge

“Do you like piano bars and well-made Manhattans, but would rather put a campfire out with your face than go to the usual trashy places along Rush and Division? This hidden spot in the Gold Coast does piano bars right. It’s tiny, comfortably dark, off the beaten path, and you won’t see a bus full of ruddy-faced Iowan’s belting out Billy Joel tunes. And the old school pianist does a mean ‘Livin’ on a Prayer.’ It truly is hidden—there is only a tiny sign and the entrance looks like that of an apartment building!” — Amelia Levin, food journalist, cookbook author and editor

Courtesy of The Twisted Vine

“If you’re a wine drinker, raise a glass to The Twisted Vine in Lakeview, because it’s about to become your favorite retreat in the city. The concept started out as a wine and gift shop back in 2003 before the owners transformed it into a laid-back, lounge style wine bar. They host fun events all the time—think live jazz performances, themed movie nights and wine tastings. And while they know their wine, they also specialize in whiskey and offer a nice selection of cocktails. Trust me when I tell you it’s well worth the trek!” — Melissa Nash, Chicago tour guide