What, did you think we were gonna just point you to the best new Chicago restaurants of 2014 and be done with it? Well, if you did, don't worry -- we totally were. But then we had a couple of beers, and decided that pointing you to the best new Chicago bars of this year couldn't hurt either, especially when the largest craft brewery in the city is involved.
Chicago's 11 best new bars of the year
Toeing the line between the Polish dive bar that preceded it and classier joints like, say, Barrelhouse Flat (where the two guys behind the drink menu previously worked), Sportsman's manages to be simultaneously divey and trendy without seeming like it's trying TOO hard to be either.
The machine spitting out chilled shots of a house-conceived Amaro blend is a work of genius. The cocktail menu -- numbered one through four -- is refreshingly simple, and you can still pop in for a shot and a beer and feel like you've come to the exact right place. Especially when the patio is heating up during the precious warmer months. - Matt Lynch
When Slippery Slope opened, everyone (rightfully) talked about it as the spiritual heir to Bonny's, but it has taken on a life of its own (and then some). One of two Logan area bars repping Chicago in our list of the best new bars IN ALL OF AMERICA, it's incredible how the disparate parts, from the skeeball to the tamale corner (on hiatus for winter while it serves as a much-needed coat check), all come together in a bizarre kind of frenetic harmony. Speaking of frenetic, there's the dance floor, where everyone can dance like their drink will never spill. Because it won't, thanks to being a deliciously strong cocktail in a tiny bottle. - Matt Lynch
Parts and Labor was an awesome experimental band from Brooklyn before its recent demise in 2012. We're guessing the owners of awesome griddle burger bar Parts and Labor knew that though, having already opened well-established hipster havens including East Room, Simone’s, and Boiler Room.
Inspired by owner Russ Grant’s father’s South Side institution Wonderburger, Parts and Labor sports a rather laid-back, unpretentious vibe that might remind you of the animated FOX show Bob’s Burgers -- especially during "Bob’s Brunch" Saturdays, when you can score a breakfast burger with bacon and a fried egg alongside Bloody Marys with skewers of house-made giardiniera and $3 Jameson shots. Oh, and all the while, Bob’s Burgers is screened on video projectors. If you’re into booths that appear to have been assembled using Legos from outer space (and why wouldn’t you be?????), this is clearly the place for you. - Jay Gentile
Sausage, bacon, beer: business slogan or way of life? Since the massive indoor/outdoor beer hall opened back in May, it's held a testicle festival (serving up deep-fried turkey... um, meat), hosted a mustache and beard contest that paid out the winner his weight in sausage, and continuously smoked its signature menu item, the 5lb Bacon Bomb.
When you’re not busy ingesting nitrates (not sure when that will be), you’ll be sipping from a well curated draft list of 20+ beers, with locals represented, like Off Color and Local Option, as well as the occasional tap takeover for Oktoberfest or 3 Floyds events. After a meal of pork and beer, you might find it hard to leave the space; then again, in a place with that much pork and beer, you might not need to. - Sean Cooley
You might not know it yet, but you need Tippling Hall. The new concept from the Mercadito folks designed its menu with drinking in mind, paired with otherworldly comfort foods including fried chicken, Cuban sandwiches, and chicken pot pie. But that doesn’t mean you also can’t get a little fancy at this contemporary drinking hall, where duck confit empanadas and beer cheese fondue also share space on the menu alongside burgers and flatbreads.
Whatever you do, make sure it's not "being intimidated by the 24-page booze menu". It’s here to help. Simplify things with draft cocktails, like the tequila-packed BBQ Daisy with Memphis BBQ bitters, or more "traditional" cocktails, like the tequila-and-pineapple sensation The Little Market. There’re also boozy slushes, boozy coffees, wine by the inch, five-packs of Schlitz tallboy cans, and rotating draft cocktail specials inspired by This Is Spinal Tap. Are you sensing a theme here? Yes, it’s booze. - Jay Gentile
On its face, the idea of a West Coast brewery putting down stakes in Chicago’s Midwest-dedicated craft beer scene had a high potential for failure. But Lagunitas, founded by Rogers Park native Tony Magee, has ingratiated itself to our city like no other craft brewery could, opening up a brewing facility that pumps out a million barrels of beer each year, with the crown jewel being the central tap room where you’ll get to drink fresh from the source.
The beer sanctuary serves up live blues music, a beer-infused food menu, and its entire roster of supremely hoppy beer, including seasonals and special session ales. This is the kind of spot where you can show up for a tour or fundraiser (or any reason really) and quickly lose track of time and space beyond the company you keep and the mason jar you’re drinking from. - Sean Cooley
Opening a cool River North bar without cheesy clubby clientele isn't as easy as you might think. Three Dots and a Dash managed the feat last year, and in 2014 the DMK crew uncorked a helluva entry with Henry’s Swing Club. Before we go any further, however, we must pause to pay homage to the 22-deep slider menu: fried oyster sliders. Fried bologna sliders. Even Elvis sliders (peanut butter, bacon, and banana) make their way onto the menu, alongside oyster shooters and smoked pork poutine fries.
Okay, now to the good stuff: the killer draft cocktail menu includes the bourbon and maple syrup-infused Cornbread Moon, plus they also throw down with carbonated booze by the bottle (did someone say Pisco Punch?), frozen mezcal mules, and a deep stable of boilermakers with Stroh’s (yes, Stroh’s) and Old Style backs -- because some guilty pleasures never go out of style. - Jay Gentile
You can sense the Violet Hour lineage of this place in the sense that everything is executed with the utmost quality, but, across the board, things are a little more playful here. Playful as in a round of Old Fashioned Shots (Demerara sugar, then whiskey, then orange slice), or a fishbowl filled up with some sparkling pineapple rum punch and conveniently long straws.
Even the more "conventional" cocktails have a sense of whimsy, with emoticons deployed to indicate a drink's spiciness, spirit-forwardness, and so forth. Also: the Cajun eats -- from life-transforming fried chicken sandwiches, to fluffy bowls of biscuits, to seriously dirty (in the best way possible) jambalaya -- are almost enough to upstage the impressive libations. - Matt Lynch
Really, you're getting two bars in one here. Downstairs is sleek, with a little more bustle to it and a lineup of $10 cocktails (an impressive price tag, considering the River North locale) that include selections in bottles, like the gin-lime-celery bitters Chelsea Cocktail, and on draft, like the Golden Filigree -- a powerful Cognac-bourbon-rum milk punch.
Upstairs, in the Deco Room, things get a little more quiet and intimate while the prices go up a touch, but you're still drinking top-notch cocktails like the Tiki-esque Boxing Rooster (bourbon, falernum, pineapple). No matter where you're sitting, the food lives up to the beverages, from tender grilled octopus over romesco sauce, to crab-stuffed tempura squash blossoms, to saffron fettuccine in wild boar ragu. It's the kind of place that demands multiple trips. - Matt Lynch
When the Godfrey Hotel opened earlier this year, its artsy, cubist-inspired architecture wasn’t the only thing turning heads in River North. The 15,000sqft IO Urban Roofscape, billed as the largest indoor/outdoor "roofspace" in the city, is the real dome twister. Giant retractable roof? Check. Massive 120in video wall live streaming Lollapalooza? Check. One of the best places to booze outdoors in the city? Absolutely.
Closer inspection of the space allows you to get acquainted with small plates, including lamb lollichops, spicy chicken skewers, risotto, and truffle mac & cheese with three types of truffle. The fact that all of these dishes are outstanding is to be expected from such a swanky space. What is not to be expected is how much actual fun you can have here -- even without $4,250 bottles of Louis XIII on ice (though that'd be nice) -- with a well-dressed, good-looking crowd from all walks of life gyrating to the DJ under trippy club lights. Take that, Holiday Inn hotel bar. - Jay Gentile
Some people might find the name of this "craft beer cafe" to be overly cute, but hey, it tells you exactly what this place is about: trying as many new beers as possible. And that is an admirable goal. The front coolers are stocked with single bottles you can take to go, mix-and-match style, for a reasonable price, or you can stick around and down them there for a bar-appropriate upcharge.
Of course, if you're drinking in, you might want to peruse the dozen-strong draft list before you commit to anything bottled, as it usually has some choice options -- particularly deep-cuts of the local variety. In fact, there's a fantastic CTA-esque map of local breweries (we like drinking maps!) on the wall that you can now purchase in poster form. - Matt Lynch
Sign up here for our daily Chicago email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in town.
1. Sportsman's Club948 N Western Ave, Chicago
2. Slippery Slope2357 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago
3. Parts and Labor2700 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago
4. Kaiser Tiger1415 W Randolph St, Chicago
5. Tippling Hall646 N Franklin St, Chicago
6. Lagunitas Brewing Company1843 S Washtenaw Ave, Chicago
7. Henry's Swing Club18 W Hubbard St, Chicago
8. Analogue2523 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago
9. Celeste111 W Hubbard St, Chicago
10. IO Urban Roofscape127 W Huron St, Chicago
11. Beermiscuous2812 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago
This neighborhood tavern offers diverse 'tails, wine, beer, and bites, and if you get there early enough in the evening, grab a spot on their pleasant back patio.
Skee-ball, tamales, and and an expansive, crimson-lit dance floor await at this two-story club made to replace what Bonny's once was. The beer is cheap, the wine is boxed, and we promise this will probably be one of the only times you'll hear "Mother-In-Law" (a tamale-chili combo) and not be filled with dread.
Parts and Labor is a hamburger-centric barestaurant in Logan Square known for its griddle burgers, sodas, and beer. The classic double burger, topped with two slices of American cheese, packs so many sandwich pickles between buns that you'll get a taste of the crisp texture in every bite. Vegetarians, don't be turned away by the beefy signature -- black bean and vegan patties are available, and the grilled cheese sandwich is a beautiful blend of three cheeses.
This absolutely insane temple of beer is adorned with a 200-seat beer garden, killer skyline views, 24 primo drafts, flights of sausage, and the heart-stopping brown sugar-rubbed bacon bomb.
From the folks behind Mercadito Hospitality, Tippling Hall is a beer hall/cocktail lounge that focuses on "global comfort food" and boasts a highly impressive cocktail menu.
Hailing from Northern CA, Lagunitas' Chicago-based brewery and taproom brings all the goods, and then some. It's the biggest brewery in Chicago (Goose Island is second!), offering tastings, events, and seasonal specials.
This River North hub is home to over 22 slider options on its menu, as well as serious drink options (buy a bottle of Jack and get free Coke refills all night!), playing cards, vintage Playboys, and pool tables.
Cajun is the name of the game at this Logan Square restaurant and cocktail lounge. You could to Analogue for just a drink, but you’d probably find the dinner menu, heavy on crawfish, po boys, and catfish, too tempting to pass up. The weekend brunch is one of the best, mainly because of the beignets, biscuits, and house-made bacon.
Every floor at this River North cocktail bar has a different vibe. On the first floor, The Bar is loud and bustling with good music. The upstairs Deco Room is more glamorous and sultry, aka perfect for a date. Finally, the garden rooftop is like a cozy urban oasis with ivy-covered walls and Victorian-style seating (tables are available first come, first served). Expect craft cocktails, beers, and fine wine on all levels, plus upscale bar bites.
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.
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." But nomenclature aside, Beermiscuous is 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 or drink right there on the premises for an upcharge. If you're more a draft devotee, the dozen-strong taplist always makes for some interesting pints or flights. 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. No food beyond some light snacks (and free pretzels!) though, so you'll have to order that lunch in.