The Best Bars in Chicago Right Now
You could use a drink.
While it’s no secret that the local bar industry has taken a tremendous hit thanks to the enduring nightmare that is America’s experience with COVID-19, nothing can stop residents of the nation’s third-largest city in their endless quest for a good drink. Thankfully, the famously bar-happy city still has plenty of options to help you crush quarantine with a well-earned boozy reward. From low-key neighborhood dives and massive outdoor patios to top-flight local beer bars and fancy dens of highbrow mixology, here are 20 of the best bars in Chicago to hit in 2020. Bookmark a few favorites and go pay them a visit. They’d love to see you.
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 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 order: 90-minute patio reservations (max four per table) recommended; carryout (food, bottled cocktails, beer) available with pickup 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 catfish hoagie 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 Maplewood. 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 order: Limited indoor seating available; patio seating available on a first-come, first-served basis with time limits possible.
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 Chicago 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 an asshole and you’ll be fine. Select cocktails from the “comforting” or “refreshing” section of the menu while sipping expertly crafted libations like the absinthe-infused Libertine or the whiskey-packed Paper Plane. Locate the entrance from the door handle hidden inside the exterior mural, where you’ll find the newly opened sidewalk patio across from Big Star.
How to order: Inside currently closed. Sidewalk patio open Thursdays-Saturdays (reserve here with $25 deposit required); cocktail kits and to-go cocktails available.
Opened in 1907 as one of Chicago’s oldest bars and famous for being the one-time favorite hangout of Al Capone during Prohibition, these days Green Mill is one of the top jazz clubs in the city as well as a damn fine spot to grab a drink. The cinematic vibes of the bucket list-worthy bar are impossible to miss (with several film scenes being shot here), especially when jazz bands hit the old-timey stage. A favorite post-show spot after catching a concert at the nearby Riviera or Aragon (during non-pandemic times), just don’t be too loud or rowdy while the bands are playing or you will be loudly and unceremoniously shushed. Drinks are nothing too fancy or gimmicky, just strong and good.
How to order: Currently open inside and outside, with a tent outside and live music both inside and outside.
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 its vibe is slightly more upscale than the dive aesthetic prevalent amongst many of its slashie compatriots. 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 Pint to pair with Korean-Polish street food from on-site counter service restaurant Kimski. What more do you need?
How to order: Bottle shop open daily; Maria’s and Kimski outdoor patio open Wed-Sun with food and beverage delivery service (order here). In-store visits restricted to two at a time; contactless ordering/payment available.
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 vibe 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, go hit the patio while you still can.
How to order: Patio open until 10pm; to-go cocktails available.
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 -- whether that is a search for the strongest drinks in the city, boozy slushies, or a bar to throw your birthday. Clearly, much ink has been spilled in this fair publication regarding this uber-popular River North tiki emporium in the past. But that’s because it remains one of the flat-out best bars in the city, regardless of category, with 200+ rums, inventive tropical drinks like treasure chests packed with booze and dry ice fog, and Polynesian eats like coconut shrimp and Thai fried chicken.
How to order: 90-minute patio reservations available here; to-go cocktails and cocktail kits 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 four-star restaurant. With bartenders trained as chefs and a state-of-the-art drinks kitchen, cocktails here are designed as works of art -- with past incarnations including drinks served in balloons, ship bottles, and ice spheres. It’s not a cheap night out by any means but is perfect for those nights when you need to impress someone who isn’t easily impressed, so expect to splurge.
How to order: Patio and inside reservations, cocktail kits, tasting menus, food pickup, and “6-course outdoor kitchen table experience” available here.
Marz Community Brewery
2020 continues to be a breakout year for Bridgeport’s beloved beer overlords Marz Community Brewing, who in 2018 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 one of Chicago’s top breweries offering a robust lineup of more offbeat offerings like their Arrested Development-riffing There’s Always Beer in the Banana Stand 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 4,000-square-foot tap room features gallery space and arcade games paired with typically atypical eats like spam musubi and milkbread French toast served in a beautiful industrial chic, art-heavy space just minutes from Guaranteed Rate Field.
How to order: Indoor currently closed. Patio seating available for two to four on a first-come, first-served basis; curbside pickup and contactless delivery available 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 got stiff drinks, a diverse jukebox, an interesting crowd ranging from grizzled old timers to tourists dropping in from nearby Second City, 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 in the basement studio of the bar by longtime owner Bruce Elliott. Forced to close temporarily due to a local Covid-19 ordinance that in effect closed all indoor bars that don’t sell food, Old Town Ale House recently reopened with a new “food license” -- as it is now selling frozen pizzas they will happily pop in the oven for you. Welcome to 2020.
How to order: Currently open at limited capacity. 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 a 19% ABV mead). With a state-of-the-art sound system and a mostly local lineup of independent musical acts, the 300-capacity music venue (currently on hiatus) 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 order: Currently open for patio only; pickup (order here) also available. Patio open Thurs-Sat; 1 ticket (reserve here) required per table per hour with two-hour time limit.
Easy Does It
Who knew one of Chicago’s coolest new bars would be a wine patio? Such is the case with Easy Does It, the new Logan Square hang replacing longtime neighborhood institution and hipster haven East Room. Currently open as a 15-seat patio and bottle shop only, the vibe of Easy Does It aligns with its breezy moniker as it serves up a bevy of naturally focused wines paired with craft brews, cocktails, hard ciders, and kombucha, along with light bar snacks such as cheese flights and popcorn. Simple and easy… something we could all use right about now.
How to order: 90-minute patio reservations available here; curbside pickup available here.
A pandemic is no excuse to stop Instagramming your cocktails. New open-air pop-up Elsewhere sets up shop on Chicago Avenue between Wells and Franklin to serve up fancy large-format cocktails like the bong-shaped Floating Garden and the heart-shaped Black Hearts Club paired with approachable bar eats including chicken tacos and bone marrow cheeseburgers. The recently opened outdoor spot appears to be in it for the long haul this patio season, even selling long-sleeve shirts and blankets on their website.
How to order: Reservations recommended here; cocktails to-go and cocktail kits available here.
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. And while it may have been late to the party, its newly opened outdoor patio with tableside food delivery service from Hot Dog Station is a most welcome addition.
How to order: Walk in and order.
What the hell do bike shop owners know about bars? Turns out plenty. This perennially 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 getting on stage at the Green Mill to play backup sax in a burlesque band. But these days, make way to their spacious 8,000-square-foot patio, self-described as the “best patio in Chicago that you have never heard of” -- which is actually pretty accurate.
How to order: Patio reservations available here; to-go cocktails available here.
Theater On The Lake
Did we really appreciate the outdoors before COVID-19? Probably not. But one thing’s for sure: we sure as hell do now. And if your idea of an outdoor nature excursion involves sipping drinks with views of Lake Michigan and the downtown skyline framed by ample green space (they even have a small outside bar slinging drinks with patio chairs in said green space), Theater on the Lake is your new favorite bar. Are the drinks expensive? Sure. But, as they say, you’re paying for the view. Sip a few and get a nice day-drinking buzz before strolling the lake pedestrian path or wandering the leafy grounds of nearby Lincoln Park.
How to order: Currently open for outdoor patio only; reserve here.
With a bevy of new taprooms opening in recent years, Chicago still seems to be in the grips of something of a taproom boom. But none are more spectacular than the taproom located at the Avondale complex of Metropolitan Brewing, where floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Chicago River make for an unrivaled local taproom experience. Dependable beers from one of Chicago’s most beloved breweries in a large, airy space was always a good idea but thanks to COVID-19, more and more people are discovering its killer riverside patio nestled along the banks of the Chicago River as a key ingredient to crushing quarantine cabin fever.
How to order: Patio available on a first-come, first-served basis; order for curbside pickup here.
This fun-filled 10,000-square-foot playpen atop the legendary Second City opened to much fanfare last summer, 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 tiki drinks while kicking back in a brightly colored Adirondack chair. You deserve it.
How to order: Patio reservations recommended here; delivery and pick-up available here.
It’s no secret that live music has been one of the most negatively impacted industries of the coronavirus crisis, but local neighborhood dive Montrose Saloon seeks to keep the music going with regular (near daily) outdoor concerts on its cozy backyard-style outdoor patio. Grab drinks from a side window and walk over to your socially distanced table to hang with an eclectic crew from all walks of life here to gather again around the simple joy of live music. Is it the best band you’ll ever see in your life? No. Is it the best way possible to spend a sunny fall Sunday afternoon? Quite possibly.
How to order: Order from the side window on the patio.
The Up Room
While many hotel bars have shuttered during Covid-19, this iconic 13th-floor lounge at the Robey continues to serve as one of the most glorious places to pair fresh air with booze while enjoying expansive views of the city in an area not traditionally known for panoramic rooftop vistas. The Up Room lends itself to date night, so head to its wraparound terrace and take in the shimmering skyline. A secluded alcove within the bell tower is particularly cozy if the weather’s less than perfect -- but ambiance and scenic views aside, the cocktails are phenomenal. Oaxacan on Broken Glass is a spicy-yet-refreshing mezcal concoction that is, most importantly, very fun to say.
How to order: Order from server.