New York's First Japanese Speakeasy Restaurant is a Hidden Gem
Iconic neighborhood slashie gets a facelift in new digs
One of the most beloved Chicago “slashies” (aka half bar/half liquor stores) gets a more sophisticated upgrade after recently moving from its longtime Jefferson Park location to new digs down the street in Portage Park. While the bottle shop has been in operation since last fall, the newly opened bar area features a handsome collection of brick walls and mural-style wall art adorned with snazzy red and black bar stools. Choose from 24 craft brews on tap (including Tripel Karmeliet and Zombie Dust) while exploring Fischman’s first-ever food menu, which includes everything from burgers and homemade sausage sandwiches to chorizo mussels and garlic cilantro ribs. While some of the more old-school purists may grouse at Fischman’s attractive new vibe, the neighborhood gathering place is catching on nicely while attracting a diverse mix of families, hipsters, beer nerds, and everyone in between.
Cocktails by the ounce and pot roast sandwiches in Avondale
One of the more stalked-about openings of 2018 is this cozy space from the crew behind Sportsman’s Club taking over the old Orbit Room space in increasingly hip Avondale. Similar in feel to Sportsman’s (and also featuring a similarly affable outdoor patio area) but with a bar area that more resembles the old Bar DeVille (RIP), Ludlow is unique in that it serves cocktails by the ounce in addition to punch on draft, classic cocktails, and pitchers of Old Style. In its “permanent food installation” Dine Hard, they’re serving up a fine booze-soaking assemblage of eats including the must-have pot roast sandwich, Chicago rib tips, and Filipino eggrolls.
Secret basement digs for serious drinking in the dark
The latest offering from the ever-popular Land & Sea Dept., this new basement bar hidden beneath Lonesome Rose is dark. Real dark. All the better to drink expertly crafted cocktails with simple ingredients in a small, speakeasy-style space dominated by a neon sign blaring the words “WEDDINGS & FUNERALS” behind a large custom-built wood bar. Gold-veiled mirror accents and other flourishes bring a bit of a fancy touch to the understated space, which is only open Thursdays-Sundays from 5pm-2am. Get there early and have the place to yourself, or show up later for a nightcap and fight for elbow room amongst a lively crowd with doo wop jams on the speakers providing a nice break from the typical indie rock and hip-hop-heavy bar playlist.
Elston Industrial Corridor
Treehouse-themed bar with porch swing, anyone?
If discovering this out-of-way spot located in the industrial stretch of Elston near The Hideout feels like you’ve just re-discovered your childhood treehouse, the feeling is intentional. This 75-seat, treefort-themed space from DMK Restaurants (who also own nearby Ada Street) is an Instagram-worthy spot that’s more than worthy of a stopover any time of day, whether it’s for a brunch of oyster shooters and avocado toast or a romantic dinner of glazed pork belly or soft shell crab (you can also get adventurous and order the “chef’s whim.”) Cocktails include punches, sours, and mules, with $20 “margarita flasks” available on Fridays. Oh, and did we mention there’s a swing in the dining room? The ever-reliable date night 1-2 punch of Ada Street and The Hideout just got a bit more competition.
Live music and sazeracs in a beautiful NoLa-styled space
The former Grange Hall Burger Bar space has been completely reimagined as this throwback New Orleans–style cocktail lounge, where chandeliers and emerald green fabrics pair with French Creole–inspired cuisine including lobster campanelle, charred octopus, and Southern fried chicken sandwiches. While not officially a live music venue, Front Room (from the owners of Sushi Dokku and the ever-popular Booze Box) stands out from the crowded West Loop pack by offering live jazz and blues bands on weekends in addition to DJs spinning vinyl during the week. Their 12 signature cocktails include sazeracs, daiquiris, and gin fizzes, so you won’t go home thirsty.
A new craft beer mecca makes its mark in Bridgeport
2018 was a breakout year for Bridgeport’s longtime beer overlords Marz Community Brewing, who opened one of the most beloved taprooms of the year in an increasingly taproom-heavy city. What makes Marz special is their attention to detail and diehard community spirit, with the brewery now offering a newly robust lineup of more globally influenced offerings like the French Kiss saison and Diliner Weisse Berliner to pair with their more traditional Chicago-themed staples like The Machine and Bubbly Creek. Led by the indefatigable owner of Maria’s Packaged Goods and Kimski (who also runs an art gallery and a radio station while publishing two indie publications), Marz’s new tap room features 24 draft lines paired with typically atypical eats like tandoori chicken wraps and pastrami melts served in a beautiful industrial chic, art-heavy space just minutes from Guaranteed Rate Field.
Coffee shop by day, live music venue/beer bar by night
This massive 8,000-square-foot beer bar/music venue/community hangout was recently opened by the crew behind The Whistler and is open all day starting at 11am, when Dark Matter coffee is served and free Wi-Fi laptop working is conducted before the space transforms into one of Chicago’s premier beer bars at night, with live music most nights of the week. Occupying a former cabinet store that looks more like a neighborhood elementary school from the outside, the inside is bright and open with light blue leather bar stools and booths accenting a wooded space serving up an impressive 56 regularly rotating beers on draft. With a state-of-the-art sound system and a mostly local lineup of independent musical acts, the 300-capacity music venue makes way to a roomy 150-person year-round patio with picnic tables offering you plenty of time to linger and make new friends. Stop by Tuesdays for live bands and $1 Hamm’s, with a $5 cover.
Neon red lights and punk rock beneath the Brown Line
If you’ve always wanted to rock to Naked Raygun and Fugazi in a former tailor shop beneath the Chicago Brown Line stop, Good Measure is (loudly) calling (or most likely screaming) your name. The punk-themed bar recently opened by the Chef Matt Troost (formerly of Three Aces) in the former Bistro Voltaire space features a healthy serving of neon red lighting, black and white checkerboard tile floors, and studded leather barstools with a punk-heavy playlist. Classic cocktails include negronis and Old Fashioneds in addition to a still rare but increasingly common special treat in Chicago: the Toki whisky highball machine. While they are most famous for their burger, standout eats also include Nashville hot fried duck livers, truffled Polish, and PBR mussels. Get in and get your sneer on.
A shuffleboard bar with food trucks and rooftop deck
At first glance, you might think a bar devoted to the South Florida retirement community sport of shuffleboard would be a novelty with a short shelf life. Yet the persistent popularity of Royal Palms, which opened in 2018 in Bucktown after its first location debuted in Brooklyn in 2014, would indicate otherwise. Centered around 11 regulation-size shuffleboard courts lined with rotating food trucks in addition to multiple bars serving tropical-themed cocktails named after famous shuffleboard players, there’s just something about the cheeky place that makes you yearn for a repeat visit. Maybe it’s the rooftop deck with shuffleboard court and bar. Maybe it’s the board games and DJs rounding out an always-lively experience. Maybe it’s the old man’s game of shuffleboard itself. Whatever it is, consider Chicago hooked.
Monster drinks (literally) at this Insta-worthy cocktail oasis
This sea monster-inspired bar is no joke. Helmed by local bartender extraordinaire Benjamin Schiller of Fifty/50 Group, anyone familiar with the inventive cocktails at Schiller’s equally happening cocktail hub Apogee know they’re in for something special. Opened last fall on the second floor of the increasingly hip Dana Hotel with unique and highly Insta-worthy garnishes and glassware inspired by mythological monsters mostly based on Norwegian folklore, Leviathan is a fun spot to take a break from the typical bar scene while housing drinks that look like something a pirate might consume after a rough week of pillaging at sea. And while Harry Potter fans and those seeking drinks in smoked-filled terrariums will surely be entertained, the solid beer list is not to be overlooked either.
New Orleans vibes with a Sno-Ball to-go window
Wicker Park locals still bemoaning the 2015 closure of longtime neighborhood dive Beachwood Inn finally got some good news in 2018, when Ina Mae’s Tavern & Packaged Goods opened in the renovated space tucked away just off Milwaukee Avenue. While certainly not as awesomely divey as its legendary predecessor, Ina Mae’s still cultivates a fun (if slightly more well-behaved and upscale) scene with an exposed brick interior, new second-floor balcony, and small outdoor patio section paying homage to the Big Easy. Created by Pioneer Tavern Group in collaboration with Frontier chef and New Orleans native Brian Jupiter, the bar is named after Jupiter’s great grandmother and features unique flourishes like a coin-operated rocking horse at the door and a Sno-Ball to-go window. But the main focus here is the NoLa-themed cocktails and authentic down-home eats, which include everything from crawfish scrambled eggs brunch to wood-grilled alligator sausage dinner.
Candy-coated churros with a glorious day drinking patio
Apparently, the hot new food to pair with your latest drinking binge isn’t hot wings or pizza. It’s churros. Specifically, the ridiculously intricate assortment of churros served up by new West Town hotspot The Gringo, which include candy-coated varieties glazed with Pop Rocks, Nerds, and mini M&Ms. The drinks are no slouch here either, with boozy slushies, Mexican beers, and margaritas lining up for a pretty fun day in vibrant environs lined with Mexican folklore décor and Spanish tiled design. But the piece de resistance at this spot from AMK Kitchen (taking over the former Grandview Tavern space) is its stunning outdoor patio, which has quickly made this spot a favorite amongst area day drinkers. Order one of 10 tacos and pull up a spot on a cozy wood table in back. You’ll never want to leave.
Chicago cocktail institution still cool after all these years
This Chicago institution has gone through a few iterations over the years, but its most recent revamp continues to be its finest. Left in the sure hands of Brendan Sodikoff, this red-lit cocktail emporium anchored by a 1937 Brunswick bar is still one of the best places in the city to impress your buddies in town visiting from some other stupid place that isn’t Chicago. Yes they’ve got punches and ice cream drinks, but this is still more of a beer and whiskey shot kind of a joint. Plus live music and burlesque is never a bad thing.
Tiki drinks and Chinese-American food never go out of style
While the tiki trend appears to be finally on a downward trajectory, you’d never know it by stepping into Paul McGee’s cozy Polynesian paradise. The iconic spot remains popular for good reason, as drinking rum-packed delights in volcano bowls continues to be a pretty fun way to spend an evening. The bar gives nods to its tropical heritage with banana leaf wallpaper and thatched bamboo, but doesn’t do so in an overly cheesy way…which is saying something when it comes to tiki bars. Plus, how many tiki joints do you know of that serve late-night Chinese-American eats?
It’s all about beer and metal at this iconic Lincoln Park hang
One of the greatest things to do in fall is drink beer. And one of the greatest places in the world to drink said beer is Chicago. Namely, at places like Lincoln Park’s no-frills dive Local Option, a beer-obsessed oasis of heavy metal drowning in a sea of Prada and poodles. Sample one of their house-branded brews like Kentucky Common while diving into a serious bar menu of out-there eats from swordfish tacos to blue crab quesadillas. And, of course, tater tots.
As essential to autumn day drinking as the crisp fall air
Fall in Chicago is a time to watch football on TV. Yet finding a sports bar that isn’t terrible turns out to be way more difficult than it needs to be. Luckily, you can enjoy the best of college and pro football without feeling like you’re stuck eating wings in a frat bro airplane hangar at this delightful little dive decked out to feel like the Wisconsin woods. As long as you don’t show up when the Packers are playing the Bears, you should make it out of here just fine.
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. 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. The current bar director, Benjamin Wood, lords over a variety of drinks, including cocktails such as the bourbon-based Second Fiddle and the Mámù Vida with mezcal, chipotle, Szechuan, honey, lemon, and sal de gusano.
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 literally “lit” Oracle punch (served in a bowl that lights up) 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 3 Floyd’s Alpha King. 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 gimlets and sazeracs with little fanfare in a space that feels like a speak-easy but isn’t trying too hard to be one.
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 rum-fueled Rhum Punch. Also, the backyard patio is an absolute neighborhood gem.
Haircut and a speakeasy, my good sir?
Barbershop by day and cocktail bar/speakeasy 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 vodka/sake highballs, there’s the tequila-based Hot Heather and Beefeater gin-backed Batman cocktails plus seven (yes, seven) types of grilled cheese -- in addition to edible offerings like pork sliders and BLTs.
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.