The Best Beer Bars in Chicago
You could use a drink.
If there’s one thing we can all agree on in the year 2020, it’s that we could all use a drink. While the ongoing pandemic continues to have a mercilessly deleterious impact on the local bar and restaurant industry, there are still quite a few spots around town for thirsty patrons to kick back and bask in some glorious Before Times-styled craft beer nerdom. Whether hanging on the outdoor patio, ordering to-go growlers, or venturing indoors to tip back a pint, here’s your rundown of the finest offerings still standing amongst Chicago’s post-pandemic craft beer bar scene.
Sheffield's Beer & Wine Garden
Long before outdoor patios suddenly became the most in-demand real estate in the hospitality industry, Sheffield’s was known throughout the city for its glorious tree-covered drinking patio. The lively-but-not-annoyingly-so spot has always been known as something of a pregame hub for Cubs games, which has obviously changed these days with a fan-free Wrigley Field, but Sheffield’s still makes an excellent neighborhood go-to for 100+ bottles, a huge vintage beer collection, and plates of hickory-smoked BBQ goodness courtesy of its in-house smoker.
How to order: Contactless menu; reservations (here) for 90 minutes for up to six per party.
Bangers & Lace
Bangers = Sausage. Lace = The foamy remnants left behind on the glass from the beer you consumed washing-down said sausage. Those Two Combined = You, happy. Truth be told, while the encased meat fare here is definitely a positive, if you go just for the beer, you won’t be disappointed, either. The perennially strong, deep-cut tap list is constantly refreshing with everything from one-off local collabs to international brews you may not be able to pronounce. Hit their sidewalk patio across from Rite Liquors for some prime people-watching along Division.
How to order: Hot dog, sausage, and burger “pandemic kits” available (order here), in addition to Black Lives Matter prints and bottled cocktails in whiskey flasks.
This Andersonville mainstay has long served as one of Chicago’s most beloved neighborhood institutions, with no screens or live entertainment (which they describe as “distractions”) since 1992. Its 68 draft lines help fuel one of the finest lineups of Belgian brews in the city, while its stateside lineup is also a force to be reckoned with. To throw back a few beers at Hopleaf while powering through piles of mussels and frites (one of Chicago’s most iconic dishes) is to know happiness.
How to order: Limited indoor seating available; patio seating available on a first-come, first-served basis with time limits possible.
Maria's Packaged Goods & Community Bar
Remodeled and renamed several years back for the owners' mother who ran this Bridgeport staple for years under the name Kaplan's Liquors, Maria's still has the soul of a dive, but is now combined with more contemporary appointments like chandeliers made of beer bottles. Oh, and they have a mind-boggling 500-700 beers for you to choose from, owed in part to the adjoining bottle shop, but also a reliably killer tap list. You're going to like drinking here. You're also going to like eating here, because their Kimski counter service restaurant is serving up inspired Korean-Polish street food that is without equal in the city. Maria’s co-founder Ed Marszewski also has his hands in many a beer-soaked pie, including the founding of Marz Community Brewing.
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 bar refers to itself as the Logan Square location but really it's just north of the border in Avondale -- no matter, because while there was once upon a time three SmallBar locations, now only one remains, sitting on a quiet stretch of Albany just as cozy and snug as the name would suggest. This isn't the place to come looking for 50 taps (they have nine taps to go along with dozens of bottles and cans), but even the most cynical beer nerd will inevitably find something that makes him (or her!) say "oh damn, I really want to try that." Hit the laid-back patio, order up a burger, and you'll feel like you're at a backyard BBQ hosted by a friend with incredible taste in beer and an abundant supply of tater tots.
How to order: Patio open on a first-come, first-served basis; dine-in open at 25% capacity; contactless delivery and carryout available (order here).
The Map Room
Another one of the OG Chicago beer bars (opened in 1992), The Map Room dubs itself “A Traveller’s Tavern” (see the flags?), and appropriately, anytime a beer geek is passing through Chicago, this is typically one of their pilgrimages. They’ve been in the game long enough to have struck up some deep ties in the brewing community, which means you’ll find yourself saying things like, “I’ve never seen that on tap before” when you start perusing the comically large tap and bottle list.
How to order: Patio open until 10pm; to-go cocktails available.
You could knock this place for a cutesy name and concept -- at this "beer cafe" you get your beers not from a bartender but a "beerista," etc. But look, nomenclature aside it's a bit different than any other place in Chicago and a valuable addition to the craft beer ecosystem, with cooler upon cooler of alphabetized bottles you can take home in a mix-and-match six pack. The free wi-fi befits the atmosphere, which really does skew a little more cafe than bar, so if you have a work-from-home gig and feel like you can be productive with a beer or two in you, it's also an underrated spot to get some work done.
How to order: Currently open for to-go only (order here).
Easily No. 1 on the list of bars frequently mistaken for an Ayn Rand homage (it isn’t, though there are some parallels... you know, just hit their website and read their explanation if this is a sticking point). Long known as one of the finest drinking rooftops in the city, their rooftop garden is an ideal spot for pandemic power drinking as you make your way through their deep selection of whiskeys and 40 canned beers and ciders. While the music selection can be hit or miss, the burger is reliably solid and the atmosphere never disappoints.
How to order: Table reservations available via Resy; delivery and pickup available via Fountainhead Market.
The reverberating heavy metal and serious brew selection here will make you completely forget that just before you entered, you saw a nice-looking couple walking their French bulldog down a sleepy, tree-lined street in Lincoln Park. If you can’t find something you like amongst their stout draft options (highly unlikely), there’s also an impressive bottle selection (rarer large-format options in particular) and surprisingly diverse pub menu featuring everything from creole wings to swordfish tacos. Really, though, you’d be remiss not to sample at least one of the house-branded options (!) they make at other Midwest breweries. This little dive doesn’t quite have room for fermentation tanks.
How to order: Currently available for pickup/delivery only (order here).
Old Town Pour House - Chicago
Since the 2018 demise of Howells & Hood, this Old Town hotspot claims the mantle for the most taps in Chicago with an eye-popping 90 (mostly American craft) varieties from which to choose. If you can’t decide, try a themed beer flight made up of staff favorites or build your own with the help of the 6-ounce pours that are available for any of their beers. The space is equally as massive as its tap list, with rich mahogany and flatscreens offering an upscale pub feel to be paired with bar eats that include Nashville hot chicken wraps and filet mignon sliders. It’s also one of the best sports bars in the city, so stop by if you’re looking to Bear down on Sunday.
How to order: Table reservations available here; takeout and delivery available here; 4% covid surcharge.
One of Chicago’s best bars is also one of its best beer bars, with an expertly curated dozens-strong draft list lovingly assembled by the team behind The Whistler, one of Chicago’s best cocktail bars. The vibe is equally on point at this Avondale space located inside a former cabinet store, which includes a 300-capacity music venue hosting some of the finest indie acts in the city (currently on hiatus). But you’re equally as likely to get into a heated discussion about hops as you are the latest Pitchfork review, thanks to its devoted patrons who aren’t afraid to showcase their high beer IQ. Yet beer novices need not fret, as the friendly staff is more than happy to guide you along. Bonus: They also serve a 19% ABV mead, so you can drink like a Medieval Times knight.
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.
Lucky Dorr Patio & Tap
Named for longtime Cubs groundskeeper Bobby Dorr, Lucky Dorr is a small but mighty craft beer bar nearly within literal spitting distance of Wrigley Field, with its patio looking out onto the park and the green expanse of Gallagher Way. The most interesting aspect of its 17 beers on tap is the frequent appearance of exclusive collaborations with local brewers, which sometimes make up more than half of the tap list. It's rare to have such a unique beer experience so close to the house that Old Style built -- though do yourself a favor and consider popping in on a non-game day and chatting up the amiable and knowledgeable staff.
How to order: Patio open Wednesday-Sunday, with strict sanitation and social distancing measures in effect.
Centennial Crafted Beer & Eatery
This gorgeous bi-level space brings a touch of class to the subpar River North craft beer scene, which has received quite a boost since this food-focused spot opened in 2017. Housed inside a 130-year-old building of handsome hardwood floors, exposed brick, and a reclaimed 1940s Brunswick bar, Centennial features 56 draft lines serving 36 regularly rotating craft beers alongside an additional 70+ bottles and cans. With beer flights and a classic yet cozy feel, their ales are meant to be paired with chef-focused eats including lamb flatbread, wild boar bratwurst, and a standout house-ground 8-oz burger. Stop by for weekend brunch or place an order for pickup to take advantage of 50% off specials on growlers and wine bottles.
How to order: Patio and inside open Wednesday-Sunday; pickup (here) and delivery (here) available.
Much like the South Loop neighborhood it calls home, First Draft isn’t trying too hard to be cool or trendy. It’s just a solid, convenient neighborhood hangout in a simple, unpretentious space that just so happens to have one of the deepest selections of draft beers in the city. With 64 draft lines to choose from, it’s a cozy space to gather with friends to watch sports on the many TVs or get adventurous by exploring the long line of taps behind the bar. The decent if not life-changing eats include comfort food staples like pizza, burgers, and mac & cheese, with weekend brunch available. So if you want to dive into some great craft beer without making such a fuss about it, this is your place.
How to order: Inside (25% capacity) and patio open 11am-11pm daily; pickup (call to order) and delivery (here) available.