The Best Bars in Chicago Right Now
Dive bars are back. Life is good.
As if residents of this infamously bar-happy city needed yet another excuse to quest after a good drink, a year of quarantine ought to do it. Add warming spring temperatures and a few hot new openings and we might just have a Roaring ‘20s-style revival on our hands. From low-key neighborhood dives and massive outdoor patios to top-notch beer bars and fancy dens of highbrow mixology, here are the best bars in Chicago to hit in 2021. And remember, please continue to wear a mask and social distance, people—this thing ain’t over yet.
One of the most buzzworthy developments during the COVID era has been the opening of this hipster hub in the even hipper Pilsen neighborhood, where simple art-lined walls with exposed brick and wood tables set the scene for a low-key hang session fueled by a trio of delicious margaritas, elevated pub grub, and local classics like the Chicago Handshake. Stop by for weekend brunch DJ sets and get pumped for the spring opening of The Alderman, an intimate 18-seat cocktail lounge with drinks curated by award-winning mixologist Lance Bowman.
How to reserve/order: Head to OpenTable for indoor dining and patio reservations or order pick-up via Toast.
Located in the basement of the always-happening Hoxton Hotel, Lazy Bird is a cool cocktail den where visitors and locals alike co-mingle with the aid of a 52-cocktail strong arsenal spanning straightforward hits like the Salty Dog to the bourbon and Absinthe-packed Improved Whiskey Cocktail. Live weekend entertainment adds to this upscale drinking emporium’s sexy vibes, further enhanced by leather-bound books and rich mahogany. You might just want to bust out the jazz flute. Maybe even get a room while you’re at it. Treat yourself.lol
How to reserve/order: Stop by for first-come, first-served indoor service.
Expect big things from this little bar that could in 2021, now that the recently reopened showstopper has been fully revamped with a much-needed 1,000 square feet of additional space. Having expanded into the dining room of sister restaurant St. Lou’s Assembly, Moneygun guests will no longer have to cram in so quite so tight to enjoy the bar’s trademark atmosphere punctuated by “classic cocktails and no bullshit.” Rumor has it that some new food menus might be on the horizon as well, so keep an eye out for that.
How to reserve/order: Stop by for dine-in and patio service.
Parson’s Chicken & Fish
Patio season isn’t patio season without at least a few sunny post-ups Parson’s, where the perennially buzzing outdoor area serves as the backdrop to many a Chicago summer. Play some pong, sip a Negroni slushy, eat some chicken—what’s not to love? An excellent reward after a hike along the nearby 606, Parson’s has recently expanded its empire with new(ish) locations in Lincoln Park and West Town and yet another location planned for Andersonville.
How to reserve/order: Head to Resy (Logan Square, Lincoln Park, West Town) for indoor dining and patio reservations or order pick-up and delivery via Toast.
One of Chicago’s most iconic dive bars is a glorious amalgamation of cheap booze, questionable bathrooms, strange unidentified odors, and unmistakable character. Stop by the beloved “Home of the Arts” to shoot some pool, spin some tunes on the juke, or see occasional live acts. They’ve even got a small outdoor patio these days, but most likely you’ll find yourself bumming smokes from randoms out front while hiding your vodka tonic under your coat for the walk home (okay, maybe that’s just us.) They just don’t make ‘em like this anymore and with the tragic recent demise of nearby Happy Village (RIP), it’s all the more reason to make this your new go-to dive before it’s too late.
How to reserve/order: Stop by for dine-in and patio service.
This longtime Logan Square institution is the kind of place you can visit not knowing anything about the drinks on the menu and leave with a feeling of accomplishment. That’s because you can throw a dart at the menu, order any drink, and rest assured knowing it’s pretty much guaranteed to be good. And, bonus, you’ll feel like you’ve expanded your horizons in the process. While the menu is famously gin-focused, there’s plenty of non-gin offerings like the rum-packed Swizzle 32 or the tequila and mezcal-filled Field With a Twist in addition to a hearty offering of craft brews and daily punch specials.
How to reserve/order: Head to Resy for indoor reservations or order carry-out via Upserve (pick-up at Moonlighter).
Long known as one of the best beer bars in Chicago, this lively Andersonville neighborhood mainstay has been going strong since 1992 and shows no signs of slowing down. Their famous mussels and fries is bucket-list worthy when it comes to Chicago cuisine, with additional options from the Belgian-inspired kitchen including a brisket reuben and brat burger. With 68 taps and hundreds of beers in bottles, the draft list is heavy on Belgians while paying homage to several local brewers like Metropolitan and Dovetail. They’re also slinging wines on tap along with anything else you could possibly feel like drinking. No TVs. No reservations. No BS. Just sit down and drink.
How to reserve/order: Indoor/outdoor seating available on a first-come, first-served basis.
The Violet Hour
It may be the least secret “secret bar” in Chicago, but damn if it ain’t still one of the finest. This veteran Wicker Park institution has long been known as a pioneering cocktail bar, and is a must for any mixology enthusiast. The vibe is polite and not rowdy, which some have deemed pretentious, but just don’t act like a jerk and you’ll be fine. Order to-go or head indoors to sip expertly crafted cocktails from shaken classics like the Part & Parcel to stirred favorites like the Polka Dot Negroni.
How to reserve/order: Indoor/outdoor reservations limited to 1 hour 45 minutes (reserve here with $25 deposit required); cocktail kits and to-go cocktails also available.
One of Chicago’s oldest bars, this 1907 original served as notorious gangster Al Capone’s favorite Prohibition-era hangout. These days, Green Mill remains one of the top jazz clubs in the country as well as a damn fine spot to grab a drink. The cinematic vibes of this bucket list-worthy bar are impossible to miss (with several film scenes being shot here), especially when bands hit the old-timey stage. It’s also a top post-show spot after catching a concert at the nearby Riviera or Aragon (during non-pandemic times, of course), just don’t be too loud while the bands are playing or you will be unceremoniously shushed. Drinks are nothing too fancy or gimmicky, just strong and delicious.
How to reserve/order: Currently open inside and outside seven days a week, with live music nightly inside the club.
Maria's Packaged Goods & Community Bar
This erstwhile Bridgeport establishment is well known as one of Chicago’s premier “slashies” (half bar/half liquor store), but the vibe is slightly more upscale than the inimitable genre’s usual dive aesthetic. The hip, artsy space features beer bottle chandeliers and a mind-boggling selection of 500-700 craft beers between the bar and bottle shop (making it easily one of the best beer bars in the city as well as a leading South Side institution). Yet their cocktailing game here is no slouch either, with well-crafted classics like the summer-y Palmer’s to pair with the Community Canteen (a.k.a. Kimski) serving free/pay-what-you-can meals for the local community from Tuesday through Saturday.
How to reserve/order: Bottle shop open daily; delivery available Wed-Sun. Peruse their virtual cooler here.
The Map Room
Hey, hey you. You like to booze? You like to booze while trying to properly identify the flag of Bolivia? Then you’ll love Map Room, one of Chicago’s OG craft beer kingpins that’s been doing its thing since 1992. This “traveler’s tavern” has aged gracefully, retaining its laid-back ethos while still managing to curate one of the most interesting beer selections in town. Leaf through weathered copies of National Geographic, try to drink beers that correspond to the various international flags hanging from the ceiling or, better yet, pocket the magazine and chill out on the patio.
How to reserve/order: Step one: Enter bar. Step two: Order drink.
Three Dots and a Dash
Whether you’re looking for a secret bar, a beautiful bar, or a tiki bar, Three Dots and a Dash is the place for any occasion. Known for serving up some of the strongest drinks in the city, alongside boozy slushies, much ink has been spilled in this fair publication regarding this uber-popular River North tropical emporium in the past. But that’s because it’s still one of the flat-out best bars in the city, regardless of category, with 200+ rums, drinks like treasure chests packed with booze and dry ice, and tasty Polynesian bites like coconut shrimp and Thai fried chicken.
How to reserve/order: 90-minute indoor/outdoor reservations available here (you can also order some of their famous mugs from their online mug shop here).
Expect the unexpected at this high-end cocktail laboratory from world-renowned chef Grant Achatz, where the drinks are created as meticulously as the dishes in a Michelen-starred restaurant. With bartenders trained as chefs and a state-of-the-art drinks kitchen, cocktails here are designed as works of art and past incarnations include beverages served in balloons, glass ships, and ice spheres. It’s not a cheap night out by any means but it’s perfect for those nights when you need to impress someone who isn’t easily impressed, so expect to splurge.
How to reserve/order: Indoor service is temporarily halted but you can snag bottled cocktails and cocktail kits for pick-up here.
Marz Community Brewery
2021 continues to be a breakout year for Bridgeport’s beloved beer overlords at Marz Community Brewing, who in 2018 opened one of the most celebrated taprooms of the year in an increasingly taproom-heavy city. What makes Marz special is their attention to detail and diehard community spirit, offering a robust lineup of offbeat offerings like their new Tropical Freak sour ale to complement more traditional 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, no big), Marz’s 4,000-square-foot tap room features gallery space and arcade games paired with typically atypical eats like spam musubi and ube mochi waffles served in a beautiful industrial chic, art-heavy space just minutes from Guaranteed Rate Field.
How to reserve/order: Taproom open Tuesdays-Sundays, order online here.
Old Town Ale House
There are dive bars, and then there is Old Town Ale House. Cited as the “best bar in the world that I know about” by former longtime patron Roger Ebert and frequented by everyone from Bill Murray to Anthony Bourdain over the years, this local neighborhood dive has stiff drinks, a diverse jukebox, an interesting crowd ranging from grizzled old timers to curious tourists, and plenty of stories to tell. The bar is also famous for its wall portraits of everyone from a nude Sarah Palin holding a rifle to a mid-strip-search Rod Blagojevich painted by longtime owner Bruce Elliott.
How to reserve/order: Walk in and order.
This massive 8,000-square-foot beer bar/music venue/community hangout was opened not too long ago by the crew behind The Whistler and has quickly evolved into one of Chicago’s top beer bars. 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 array of regularly rotating beers on draft plus ciders and meads. With a state-of-the-art sound system and a mostly local lineup of independent musical acts, the 300-capacity music venue (hopefully reopening soon) makes way to a roomy 150-person year-round patio with picnic tables offering you plenty of time to linger and make new friends.
How to reserve/order: Patio reservations available here.
What the hell do bike shop owners know about bars? Turns out plenty. This sleek 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 plus a massive 8,000-square-foot warm weather patio for prime socially-distant sipping. Inside, it’s tough to ignore the old-timey vibe, like the kind of place your grandpa would slam bourbon before getting on stage at the Green Mill to play backup sax in a burlesque band.
How to reserve/order: Stop by for indoor and patio service or order canned cocktails to-go here.
Theater On The Lake
Did we really appreciate the great outdoors before COVID-19? Probably not. But one thing’s for sure: We sure as hell do now. And if your idea of a nature excursion involves sipping drinks with views of Lake Michigan and the downtown skyline framed by ample green space, Theater on the Lake is your new favorite bar. Are the drinks expensive? Sure. But, as they say, location, location, location. Settle in and get a nice day-drinking buzz before strolling along the pedestrian path or wandering the leafy grounds of nearby Lincoln Park.
How to reserve/order: Reserve a table for indoor/outdoor service here.
This fun-filled 10,000-square-foot playpen atop the legendary Second City opened to much fanfare in 2019, and remains one of the city’s most popular rooftop hangs even in the age of COVID. Ablaze in an orgy of vibrant colors and packed with group-friendly games like giant Connect Four and cornhole, it’s not hard to see why. So stop by for some tailgate-themed food and tropical drinks while kicking back in a neon-hued Adirondack chair. You deserve it.
How to reserve/order: Book a patio/indoor table here; delivery and pick-up available here.
It’s no secret that the live music industry has been a major casualty of the coronavirus crisis, but local neighborhood dive Montrose Saloon has heroically managed to keep the tunes flowing throughout the last year with almost-daily outdoor concerts on its cozy back patio. Grab drinks from the side window, find a socially-distanced table, and soak up the atmosphere alongside an eclectic crew from all walks of life brought together by the simple joy of live music. Is it the best band you’ll ever see in your life? Probably not. Is it the best way to spend a sunny spring afternoon? Obviously.
How to reserve/order: Stop by for patio service.