Now that we're all done celebrating America’s dominance in Rio by running through the streets wearing nothing but an American flag shouting “USA!” at everyone within spitting distance (or was that just us?), it’s time to train for 2020. Which means honing your Olympic-level bar game skills at these 10 local bars that constitute the great Chicago Bar Decathlon, organized by geographic proximity as you fan your way outward from Downtown. You may not take home a gold medal, but the glorious hangover will last a lifetime.
The sport: Shuffleboard
Game Room at the newly souped-up Chicago Athletic Association may be most well-known for its crushed oyster shells bocce court, but shuffleboard is no slouch either at this upscale bar sports training center complete with cards, chess, and checkers in addition to the typical billiards and foosball fare. With the rooftop Cindy’s above and Shake Shack below (not to mention the uber-swank Milk Room), you could easily go into extra innings in these friendly confines. Or whatever the hell they call playing shuffleboard for far longer than any reasonable human being should.
The sport: Jenga
We’ve all been to bars with Jenga sets, nothing spectacular there. But true bar Olympians hone their craft with LIFE-SIZED Jenga sets, preferably in some ridiculously beautiful setting like the outdoor terrace at Streeterville Social. So make eyes with that group of hotties across the lawn and challenge them to a game. You’ve got nothing to lose. (Except, of course, your dignity if you’re the one who knocks the whole goddamn thing over.)
The sport: Bocce
Pinstripes and Game Room both offer a solid indoor bocce experience, but to truly experience the old-man sport of royalty one must saunter over to the outdoor bocce court popping up in Kaiser Tiger’s glorious beer garden in the warmer months. They are so into the sport they even have a Sunday night summer bocce league made up of eight-person teams complete with referees, playoffs, trophies, and “tears of shame.” Bonus: the court transforms into an outdoor curling rink in the winter months, bring your Canadian friend.
Wicker Park/Logan Square
The sport: Video games
It doesn’t take much to envision a world in the not-too-distant future where gamers share a seat at the medals table (I mean, could they be any worse than Ryan Lochte?). Until then, you can get your fix at one of the many arcade bars that have sprouted up across the city like pot leaves in Denver, including the original: Emporium. It’s not all Donkey Kong and Pac-Man, mind you. They’ve also got a regular rotation of limited brewery releases, food truck collaborations, and live music/DJs sets from the delightfully weird weirdoes at Odd Obsession. Not to mention foosball tourneys, air hockey tourneys, and pub trivia. Tinder date set.
The sport: Ping-pong
Happy Village and Ada St both keep their ping-pong game tight, but ponging on the sunny court centrally located in the Parson’s back patio is the quintessential Chicago bar sports experience. The ping-pong balls may be deflated due to overuse almost to the point of being worthless, but that just makes the games more interesting. Stadium-styled seating, fried chicken, and a Negroni slushy-slinging bar just steps away makes this one drinking sport we can definitely get behind.
The sport: Skee-Ball
“Logan Square’s favorite shit show” is the motto of this late-night neighborhood institution, and we couldn’t have said it better. Infamous for its dance floor and bottled cocktails, the real draw here for bar Olympians (besides chatting up hunnies) is Skee-Ball, the game you swear could have earned you a college scholarship had your alma mater just had the wise foresight to start up a Skee-Ball team. No matter, you can get your reps in here under the dim red lights and post epic Vines of your domination on Harvard’s Facebook page to guilt them into finally fielding a team. Or just drink beers with your buddies, whatever works.
The sport: Bowling
The great Ernie McCracken reminded us all why bowling should be an Olympic sport in the seminal 1996 cinematic masterpiece known as Kingpin, but 20 years later the chosen sport of fat balding dads from the suburbs has yet to gain traction with those snobs in the IOC. No matter, you can still walk into Southport Lanes any day of the week and roll with the best of ‘em till the wee hours. And yes, there will be mini corn dogs and yes, there will be Wisconsin butterburgers. This is still bowling, after all.
The sport: Bags
As one of the most underrated back patios in the city, this unassuming Lakeview dive has all your back patio needs including bags (otherwise known as “cornhole” to your stupid cousins visiting from out of state), darts, dogs, and a grill where yes, you can in fact grill your own meats. So the next time you find yourself walking around the city with a pound of raw ground beef in your pocket, you know where to go.
The sport: Batting cages
At first glance, it would seem alarmingly foolish to arm anyone drinking at a bar in Wrigleyville with a bat. Why not allow fencing during St. Patrick’s Day? Archery on New Year’s? But Sluggers makes it work with a full-on upstairs game room offering the full bro experience thanks to batting cages, pop-a-shot hoops, and other mainstays of local bar gamer culture. Unless you win the lottery to buy Cubs playoffs tix, this might be the closest you’ll get to Joe Maddon’s clubhouse fog machines.
The sport: Turtle racing
Monday Night Football. Super Bowl Sunday. Friday night turtle racing. A longstanding tradition in the annals of the local dive bar Hall of Fame (if such a place existed), this regal sport of kings pits these laid-back little creatures tortoise-à-tortoise as you cheer your chosen turtle along while drinking pitchers of beer out of red Solo cups. Is there a better way to close out your bar decathlon experience? No. Is it more fun than the Closing Ceremonies? Yes.
Sign up here for our daily Chicago email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in town.
1. Chicago Athletic Association Hotel12 S Michigan Ave, Chicago
2. Streeterville Social455 N Park Dr, Chicago
3. Kaiser Tiger1415 W Randolph St, Chicago
4. Emporium Arcade Bar1366 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago
5. Parson's Chicken & Fish2952 W Armitage Ave, Chicago
6. Slippery Slope2357 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago
7. Southport Lanes & Billiards3325 N Southport Ave, Chicago
8. Cody's Public House1658 W Barry Ave, Chicago
9. Sluggers World Class Sports Bar3540 N Clark St, Chicago
10. Big Joe's1818 W Foster Ave, Chicago
Following a 2015 renovation, this historical building transformed into a boutique hotel with several food and drink options, including a patio-equipped Shake Shack, Drawing Room in the expansive second floor lobby, and a rooftop restaurant with views of Millennium Park. The epic game room has bocce and shuffleboard courts, a pool table, and foosball, while the restaurant, Cherry Circle Room, serves a beef-centric menu and tableside cocktails.
At 9,000-sq.-ft., Streeterville Social is one of Chicago's largest rooftops perched atop the Loews Chicago Hotel. The cocktails are just as impressive as the view and the eats include a variety of upmarket spins on street food, like an oyster po’boy with cioppino broth, chorizo, and garlic aioli and grilled chicken thigh bahn mi served with cucumber salad and spicy mayo.
This absolutely insane temple of beer is adorned with a 200-seat beer garden, killer skyline views, 24 primo drafts, flights of sausage, and the heart-stopping brown sugar-rubbed bacon bomb.
Emporium Bar Arcade brought to reality the dreams of dudes everywhere. It's about time you and your friends grow up, order whiskey on the rocks and settle, once and for all, who is the true king of Street Fighter 2.
Parson's Chicken & Fish in Logan Square knows a thing or two about deep-frying -- the menu features chicken, fish, hush puppies, and cheese curds in all their breaded and battered goodness. Not everything is deep-fried though; there's a small raw bar selection and small plates to share. The spot is upscale for a quick-serve spot, and its large outdoor patio is one of the top summer hang spots in Chicago.
Skee-ball, tamales, and and an expansive, crimson-lit dance floor await at this two-story club made to replace what Bonny's once was. The beer is cheap, the wine is boxed, and we promise this will probably be one of the only times you'll hear "Mother-In-Law" (a tamale-chili combo) and not be filled with dread.
Built in 1900, this vintage bowling alley in Lakeview shows its age, but does so with impeccable style, shown in the form of four handset bowling lanes and a swanky billiards room with six ornate tables. Not to mention, there's an antique bar, and a menu with all of your favorite comforting small plates, including mini corndogs, Philly egg rolls, adult mac & cheese (cavatappi pasta, Egmont cheese, crispy pork belly), and chili nachos. There are salads, sandwiches, and burgers, too, but remember that time I mentioned mini corndogs?
Thing to note: though it may look like it from the outside, and even when you step inside, Cody’s is not your average dive bar. Yes, bottles of Old Style and cans of Schlitz (among other brews) are dirt cheap, and yes you’ll pay for them in cash only in between rounds in the dart room. Those pretzel sticks at the bar, yes, they’re free. And sure, bring your dog, but also -- and here’s where it leaves “average” territory -- bring your own brats or burger patties, because there are two grills out back for patrons to use between rounds of bocce.
An enormous, classic sports bar, perfect for game days, drink specials, and of course, dueling pianos.
So you don’t put ketchup on your Chicago dogs and you’ve jumped into Lake Michigan in polar temperatures, and maybe you even actually enjoy drinking Old Style, but if you’ve never partaken in turtle racing at Big Joe’s dive bar on Foster Ave., you’re not really a true Chicagoan. Get to the Lincoln Square “tracks” early on Fridays, get in line for a chance to race the turtle of their choice, and let the reptilian race begin! If your turtle wins, you get a Big Joe’s t-shirt. If your turtle loses, you still get a free drink. Turtle racing, cheap (if not free) drinks, and t-shirts? Win,win,win.