Food & Drink

The 15 Best Bars for Dates in Chicago

Published On 04/02/2015 Published On 04/02/2015
date bars
Courtesy of Eric Kleinberg

For your next date, let's excise the whole “Where do you wanna go?" "I dunno, you pick LOL" "No, you pick LOLOL!” and skip right to this list of 15 Chicago bars guaranteed to start your date night off right. (And boozy.)

Courtesy of Jackie Trezzo

Fulton Market Kitchen

Fulton Market
With high ceilings, bright colors, and top-notch cocktails, the funky pop art gallery concept and newly redesigned interior has ice breaker figuratively (and maybe literally??) written all over. Choose from one of three dining and drinking spaces and get down with new menu items like bay scallops & sweetbreads w/ crispy lemon, spiced tobiko, and truffled aioli. Pro tip: order the Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice cocktail -- it's delicious, but more importantly gives you the opportunity to see if your date says Beetlejuice a third time.

Courtesy of The Peninsula Chicago

The Bar at the Peninsula

Gold Coast
You’re tired. You planned a date. Now let the bar do the work at The Bar at the Peninsula, where you’ll get the kind of renowned martini every date deserves. This secluded Gold Coast spot dons a fireplace (so go quick, before it gets warm, because you know... that’s going to happen any minute!) and promises a good amount of privacy.

Courtesy of Huge Galdones

The Betty

West Loop
Polished but still sweet and approachable, this new West Loop saloon is where you'll want to head for your next power date. Make sure you get the Age of Enlightenment (cocktail, not era from the 1650s to the 1780s in which cultural and intellectual forces in Western Europe emphasized reason, analysis, and individualism), and share the squid salad, tikka masala, and pistachio cupcake. We promise they’re all worth the calories.

Courtesy of Fogelson/Jetel

JIMMY at the James

River North
Go "secret" on your next night out at JIMMY at the James, where you can sip on a saffron-infused bourbon Lucky Penny or classic Rusty Nail as you drop subtle (/not subtle, depending) hints that this place is also a hotel. Also: the dangling metal curtains make for really fun selfies after a couple of JIMMY’s cocktails.

Courtesy of The Godfrey Hotel

IO Urban Roofscape

River North
One of Chicago's best new bars from last year, this sexy rooftop lounge sports views galore, plus pitchers of cocktails galore, including Chef Riley’s Spicy Strawberry Daiquiri (Botran Reserva, spicy strawberry puree, grapefruit and St. Germain). IO almost always has danceable music, so maybe do some of that, too.

Courtesy of Eric Kleinberg

Boka

Lincoln Park
With a new chef (Lee Wolen from The Lobby), new pastry chef (Meg Galus from NoMi), an impressive new look, a MICHELIN STAR, and a full bar, Boka is a must. The cocktails are awesome, but if you wanna be adventurous, choose something from the "wines we are into right now" list.

Courtesy of The Violet Hour

Violet Hour

Wicker Park
As one of the best cocktail bars in THE ENTIRE COUNTRY, this Wicker Park speakeasy boasts a vast drink menu with a good amount of privacy. The crowd is yuppie but cool and prices are steep, but you get what you pay for. Two drinks and you've most likely reached a great place. Make sure you follow the house rules: Violet Hour requests you only bring those who would accompany you to your mother’s house for Sunday brunch, so dress the part and note that no reservations can be made. Cocktails to try: Juliet and Romeo, Take Me Away, and the Grey Lady.

Courtesy of Cory Dewald

The Bedford

Wicker Park
Who wouldn't want to go on a date inside a bank vault? Sip bubbly and eat a shload of oysters on the half while counting the thousands of lockboxes that line the wall of this former real-life bank. On Thursdays, they'll hook up half-price Champagne bottles and dollar oysters -- or, go on a Tuesday for a $14 combo of beer and one of the best burgers in the area.

Courtesy of Scott Shigley

Mindy's Hot Chocolate

Bucktown
This cool little dessert bar has an easygoing, natural feel that'll help you leave those first date jitters at the doorstep. Oh, right, and it also has warm brioche doughnuts with chocolate frosting glaze, rainbow sprinkles, and cold coffee dip, plus Manhattans made with grapefruit bitters.

Courtesy of PUBLIC

The Library & Coffee Bar at Public Chicago

Gold Coast
Walking into the Public Chicago foyer is an experience in itself, where drinks by the fireplace are what date night dreams are made of. Veer right to the living room-style Library & Coffee bar for a 1950s night brimming with intimacy. Great for those seeking a bit more sophistication to their evening than this sort of thing.

Courtesy of Anthony Tahlier

RM Champagne Salon

West Loop
We can’t prove it, but we're pretty sure this secluded alleyway spot was created specifically for this list. Small and semi-secretive, with a wood-burning fireplace, this romantic French oyster and Champagne lounge is the perfect place to get lost in a fairytale night. The cheese and dessert boards are definitely a good idea and Champagne is definitely the way to go at RM, but try the Seven Strangers, too, if you like your cocktail with a kick. (Editor's Note: you do.)

Courtesy of Nathan Michael

Lone Wolf

West Loop
Laid back and leather draped, this chill little tavern is perhaps best for the more informal and carefree couple. Take your date here for a cool cocktail, boilermaker, or beer, or pop in after dark and hide away in one of the many booths that line the walls. Bonus: Lone Wolf is quiet, which allows for good conversations with minimal disruption.

Courtesy of Flik Productions

Old Town Pour House

Old Town
Bond over your love of beer at this fun little spot, perfect for meeting friends and sharing comfort food. Pour House is loud, energetic, and can get crowded, which is why it’s probably best for a game-day group outing rather than a solo mission. The large, two-level space is casual and jolly with good bar food, TVs everywhere (in case your date is a bore), and one of the city’s most extensive draft beer lists. The cheese curds, Duck Confit Nachos, and Chicago Dogs? All things you should get.

Courtesy of watershed

Watershed

River North
As one of Chicago’s kind of-secret parlors, this hipster-ish underground lodge-style bar boasts a vast variety of whiskey and the best fries around River North. Hold your date’s hand while you walk down the stairs from Pops for Champagne and watch their eyes pop when you lead them into this quaint and cozy spot. It’s intimate enough to sneak some kisses in the corner booth while still maintaining a lively atmosphere. Pair your Moscow Mule with the frites and honey goat cheese. Trust.

D.O.C. Wine Bar

D.O.C. Wine Bar

Lincoln Park
Fun, quaint, and comfortable would be three words to describe this cozy little vino spot. Wine lover or not, this is a good place to try a flight of alcoholic grape juice from international selections with zero intimidation factor. Pair the fine selection of Italian reds and French whites with crispy avocado fries, bruschetta, and, of course, cheese to soak everything up.

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Danya is contributing writer for Thrillist, who moved to Chicago to dabble in graphic design, fashion, and journalism. In short, to basically take the city by storm. Follow her at @directedbydanya.

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1. Fulton Market Kitchen 311 N Sangamon St, Chicago, IL 60607

With high ceilings, bright colors, and really good cocktails, this funky pop art gallery concept has ice breaker figuratively (and maybe literally??) written all over. Choose from one of three dining and drinking spaces and get down with menu items like Bay Scallops & Sweetbreads w/ crispy lemon, spiced tobiko, and truffled aioli.

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2. The Bar at The Peninsula 108 E Superior St, Chicago, IL 60611 (Gold Coast)

This secluded Gold Coast bar (located in The Peninsula Hotel) has a fireplace, great drinks, and bar bites like mini Kobe burgers and sushi.

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3. The Betty 839 W Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60607 (West Loop)

Right next to The Publican, this neighborhood tavern in West Loop is upscale enough to impress clients but casual enough to take a first date. The dimly lit, rustic space is decorated with vinyl-stacked bookcases and red leather sofas, and something about the retro vibe creates a perfect ambience to drink fancy cocktails and small bites than run the gamut from chicken liver mousse to pierogies. Drinks range in price -- there's 23-year Pappy Van Winkle, but there are also half-price beers when the happy hour time is right.

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4. JIMMY at The James Chicago 610 N Rush St, Chicago, IL 60610 (Near North Side)

Located on the Near North Side, this cocktail bar and lounge is a sophisticated and inviting space that offers an upscale, unpretentious environment to enjoy an innovative cocktail.

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5. IO Urban Roofscape 127 W Huron St, Chicago, IL 60654 (River North)

This seriously sleek rooftop spot is perfect for our 100 days of Summer. A lounge with swanky drinks and serious eats, this is the place to be when the weather's nice.

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6. Boka 1729 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614 (Lincoln Park)

Romantic enough for a date night and inventive enough to surprise even the most jaded of palates, this time-tested and Michelin-starred favorite in Lincoln Park promises good food in a good atmosphere. Crafted by visionary Lee Wolen, Boka serves a contemporary menu (heirloom carrots with pistachio crumbles, bulgur, and smoked goat cheese, for example) available à la carte or as a seven-course tasting. Make sure to order cocktails and dessert -- both are downright indulgent.

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7. The Violet Hour 1520 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60622 (Wicker Park)

The first clue that this Wicker Park cocktail lounge is different from its neighboring bars is the house rules, the first of which forbids cellphones. The second is the James Beard Award-winning cocktail program. The drink menu is organized by alcohol type, and though you'll find vodka, brandy, tequila, gin, and rum cocktails, The Violet Hour's speciality seems to be whiskey, and a sip of the eponymous Old Fashioned confirms it. This is your Chicago destination for a night of refined, expensive drinking -- there is a dress code, and it's fancy.

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8. The Bedford 1612 W Division St, Chicago, IL 60622

Named for the Bedford, IN limestone that continues to comprise the exterior of the historic Home Bank & Trust building, TB's an 8000sqft den of dining and drinks that includes the bank's original vault room, which's lined with wall-to-wall lockboxes and other trinkets.

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9. Mindy's Hot Chocolate 1747 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 (Wicker Park)

Pastry chef Mindy Segal's Bucktown restaurant is synonymous with comfort food from both the sweet and savory sides of the spectrum. Open for lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch, Mindy's Hot Chocolate serves soul-warming dishes, like the Slagel Farm beef burger topped with a fried egg, creamy mac & cheese, and daily soups with crusty sourdough bread. Of course, a meal here isn't complete without dessert, which should include an order of the amazingly rich hot chocolate and a slice of the daily cake (or anything off the dessert menu -- it's all addictive).

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10. The Library & Coffee Bar at Public Chicago 1301 N State Pkwy, Chicago, IL 60610 (Gold Coast)

Walking into the Public Chicago foyer is an experience in itself, where drinks by the fireplace are what date night dreams are made of. Veer right to the living room-style Library & Coffee bar for a 1950s night brimming with intimacy.

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11. RM Champagne Salon 116 N Green St, Chicago, IL 60607 (West Loop)

This secluded alleyway bar/restaurant in West Loop is a prime spot for sipping bubbly, slurping oysters, and devouring luxurious cheeses. The French-inspired menu is filled with sharable plates and classic brasserie mains like croque monsieur and steak frites. If sparkling wine isn't your thing, don't worry, the bar serves its fair share of craft beers and cocktails. RM's picture-perfect interior features chandeliers, a cozy fireplace, and white tablecloths, and the secluded outdoor patio is a prime spot during the warmer months.

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12. Lone Wolf 806 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60607 (West Loop)

Lone Wolf is ready to feed you with some stick-to-your-bones food paired with a cocktail. Plus, it's got lots of beer.

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13. Old Town Pour House 1419 N Wells St, Chicago, IL 60610 (Old Town)

Taking over the former 33 Club, OTPH-no-J is a wood-ensconced bi-level brew hall with wall-to-wall flatscreens and 120 taps, which pour out suggested pairings for truffle mac 'n cheese w/ Guinness-braised short ribs (uhhhh... Guinness?), blackened red snapper tacos w/ cilantro-lime cream, and crab fondue infused with Humboldt Fog.

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14. Watershed 601 N State St, Chicago, IL 60654 (River North)

Covering what was once Pops For Champagne's jazz rathskeller in a neighborly mixture of upholstered armchairs and high-backed wooden booths, Watershed's pouring a 50-strong beer list heavy on Midwest micros (Great Lakes, Metropolitan, Bell's) along with specialty 'tails like the Shake in the Hay (North Shore Gin no. 6, green chartreuse, lime, cucumber syrup, celery bitters).

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15. D.O.C. Wine Bar 2602 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60614 (Lincoln Park)

Fun, quaint, and comfortable would be three words to describe this cozy little vino spot. Wine lover or not, this is a good place to try a flight of alcoholic grape juice from international selections with zero intimidation factor. Pair the fine selection of Italian reds and French whites with crispy avocado fries, bruschetta, and, of course, cheese to soak everything up.

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