There's certainly a place in this city for high-end bars that charge $15 per precisely garnished, carefully crafted cocktail. But there’s something about the dive bar atmosphere, the price of the drinks and the dimly lit ambience and the gruff-yet-friendly regulars you’re bound to meet there, that make a city without them not worth living in. Luckily, we don't have that problem in Chicago. There are still plenty of certified dives around, and they'll always be there for you when you don't feel like thinking about whether the pants you're wearing are "fashionable" or "clean." These are the best dive bars in Chicago.
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Est. 1983 | Ukranian Village Warm, inviting, and full of music Though it’s far from the Old Town School of Folk Music, the Inner Town Pub has become a hangout for folks who teach there, so if you’re hoping some of their talent will rub off on you, pay them a visit. There’s live music there every other Tuesday, and a monthly open mic that consistently features some of the best talent in the city. And that’s to say nothing of the inspired crafted cocktails, the amazing homey/spooky decor, or the fact that the bartenders are all wonderful. Seriously. Catch them on a slow night and converse.
Est. 1999 | Roscoe Village Extensive draft beer list, killer jukebox, and food that’s better than it has any right to be Roscoe Village has plenty of dive bars, but Four Moon Tavern is our favorite because it really ticks all the boxes: a killer jukebox, reasonably priced beers, friendly bar staff, a pool table, and a great kitchen with specials that rotate based on the whims of the chef. Of particular note is the extensive beer list -- Four Moon has a huge selection not just of traditional beers, but of ciders as well, which is unique and welcome for a dive. Consider staying for a meal as well -- the food is delicious, and the portions are enormous.
Est. 1972 | Uptown Chicago’s most infamous honky-tonk, finally reopened It’s been closed since 2016, but Carol’s Pub, the craziest late-night bar in Chicago finally reopened this past December under new ownership. Luckily, it seems as if that ownership is taking a hands-off approach, keeping intact the low prices, down-and-dirty vibe, and live music that makes Carol’s Pub such a wild, weird, special place.
Est. 1995 | River North The only one of its kind in River North Snickers is worth recommending for the lone fact that it’s the one place in River North where you’re least likely to encounter a finance bro in a short sleeve button down, Chubbies shorts, and Stan Smiths. Fortunately, that’s not all Snickers has to offer. Since renovating recently, Snickers has expanded their beer selection and their food menu, but without sacrificing the dive oasis vibe that makes them special. Plus, the drinks are still cheap.
Est. 1958 | Old Town A Second City hangout and one of the nation's most eclectic and iconic dives Old Town Ale House ties Carol’s Pub for the best known and most consistently busy dive bar on this list, but like Carol’s Pub, Old Town Ale House is packed for good reason. The first thing you’ll notice upon entering is the art on the walls, decidedly NSFW portraits of politicians in... compromising poses. The next thing you’ll notice is that all the actors and comedians from the show you just saw at Second City are at the bar. Old Town Ale House has been a favorite of Second City comedians and alumni for decades. It’s time for you to find out why.
Est. 1970 | Lakeview East Karaoke three times a week, weekly trivia, and reasonably priced drinks Sure, there are tons of dive bars along Broadway in Lakeview East, but Friar Tuck is one of the very best. Pop in any night of the week, and there’ll be something special going on, whether it’s karaoke, a Super Smash Bros. tournament, or trivia, complete with a rotating cast of friendly regulars who will welcome you into their fold with open arms.
Est. 1985 | Lakeview East John Wayne Gacy’s (and possibly your) favorite Let’s get this out of the way first: Due to its association with some of the most famous serial killers in American history, L & L Tavern will, by law, appear on every single Chicago dive bar list until the heat death of the universe. But that’s not why we’re including it here. No, L & L is a good enough bar to make the list on its own merits. A favorite of punk bands like Against Me! as well as John Wayne Gacy, L & L Tavern is one of the only places in a five-block radius where you can still snag an Old Style for under $3. And that’s not even mentioning the jukebox, which houses an eclectic mix of songs of all genres, from soul to first-wave punk to indie to disco. You’ll come because you’re a fan of My Favorite Murder. You’ll stay because it’s a genuinely good dive bar. Or because you got murdered.
Est. 1987 | Lakeview Chicago’s best dog-friendly dive You read that, right? Why are you still reading this? Wouldn’t you rather be drinking a Lone Star and chomping pretzel sticks while making friends with and petting tons of Good Boys and Girls? I’d stop writing this one right now, but my editor would probably get angry at me. Anyway, Cody’s is a special place. Named after its owner’s dog, and featuring some of the wildest bathroom graffiti you’ll ever see in the city, Cody’s deserves far more attention than it often gets.
Est. 1982 | Lincoln Square A formidable draft list and tons of dartboards There aren’t really many dive bars along the stretch of Lincoln Avenue that serves as the backbone of the Lincoln Square neighborhood, so Ricochet’s Tavern is a breath of fresh air. In an area full of bars decked out in what is, essentially, biergarten cosplay, Ricochet’s has no need to dress itself up to assert its cred. Instead, Ricochet’s trades on its extensive beer list, its dartboards dotting the walls, and the TVs playing soccer and rugby matches.
Est. 2004 | Logan Square Dive bar vibe, dive bar prices, Fulton Market cocktail craftsmanship The lightning-quick gentrification of Logan Square a decade or so ago has made truly homey dive bars a rarity there. Logan Arcade is one of those bars, as previously mentioned, and Weegee’s Lounge is another. Don’t be intimidated by the sharp getup often worn by bartender Chris, Weegee’s lounge is as unpretentious as they come. Stop by, order your favorite cocktail -- their selection of liquors is huge -- and settle in for a round or two of shuffleboard with a buddy.
Est. 1987 | North Center The bar your quirky, art-loving aunt and uncle would have opened Tucked away in a relatively lonely stretch on Ashland near Irving Park sits one of the most special, undiscovered bars in the city. Ten Cat Tavern is like most dives, in that it’s relatively small, has a pool table, and offers drinks on the cheap. It’s not like most dives in that it doubles as an art gallery. Beyond the art on display at the front, the wonderfully mismatched art deco aesthetic of the bar makes it worth the trip alone.
Est. 1973 | North Center The best German pub in Lincoln Square isn’t in Lincoln Square There’s nothing wrong with wanting to bar hop around Lincoln Square, getting rowdy while at bathing in the ambience of a historic German neighborhood. But for something off the beaten path, head south a few blocks to Resi’s. They carry a selection of German beers that is slightly intimidating in its variety, and they’ll pour them by the liter for a reasonable price while the inviting aroma of freshly cooked knockwurst wafts through the air. The low ceilings and wooden architectural touches give the bar a comforting and cozy vibe, one that is special and unique -- especially for the area.
Est. 1934 | Andersonville A welcome respite from the glut of expensive craft beer bars... also, it’s haunted It’s easy to miss Simon’s Tavern if you’re up in Andersonville looking for a pint, and that’s how its patrons like it. While folks from outside the neighborhood flood hotspots like Hopleaf and Lady Gregory’s, Simon’s Tavern has been attracting Andersonville locals for the better part of a century. And for good reason too -- like its more upscale neighbors, Simon’s Tavern boasts a huge selection of European beers and offers great cocktails; they just do it a whole lot cheaper than most folks on the block. Just watch out for the ghost that lives there. No, seriously. Read the story here.
Est. 1951 | Wrigleyville The last actual dive left in Wrigleyville and Chicago's best spot to drink Malort Don’t you dare lump Nisei Lounge in with the rest of the raucous bars in Wrigleyville. Visitors to the oldest tavern in Wrigley will find a welcome respite from the craziness along Clark Street, complete with dart boards, life-size Jenga, and pool tables. Come because the bar is one of the best places in Chicago to celebrate Malort, stay to learn about the bar’s wonderful history as a haven for second-generation Japanese immigrants after World War II.
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Sam Greszes is a Chicago based writer who contributes to Kill Screen Magazine, GameSkinny, and ION Magazine. He is unlockable by beating the game on Very Hard difficulty without losing a life. You must then defeat him to unlock him for Arcade and Versus modes.