Food & Drink

25 Signs You're in a Real Chicago Dive Bar

Published On 01/23/2017 Published On 01/23/2017
signs you're in a real chicago dive bar
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Alice's Lounge
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Sean Cooley/Thrillist
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Flickr/Chicago Crime Scenes
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1. Big Joe's 1818 W Foster Ave, Chicago, IL 60640 (Lincoln Square)

So you don’t put ketchup on your Chicago dogs and you’ve jumped into Lake Michigan in polar temperatures, and maybe you even actually enjoy drinking Old Style, but if you’ve never partaken in turtle racing at Big Joe’s dive bar on Foster Ave., you’re not really a true Chicagoan. Get to the Lincoln Square “tracks” early on Fridays, get in line for a chance to race the turtle of their choice, and let the reptilian race begin! If your turtle wins, you get a Big Joe’s t-shirt. If your turtle loses, you still get a free drink. Turtle racing, cheap (if not free) drinks, and t-shirts? Win,win,win.

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2. L&L Tavern 3207 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60657 (Lakeview)

Lakeview's L&L Tavern has a dark and storied past, but remains one of the city's more interesting dives because of it. It’s rumored that both Jeffrey Dahmer and John Wayne Gacy frequented the tavern, the former scoping out his next victim through the window facing the street, and the latter in a full clown suit. So… what are you waiting for? Sip your PBR tall boy and realy familiarize yourself with the serial killers by sitting in the very bar -- maybe even the very chair -- they once occupied. Or just go because the beers are cheap, that works too.

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3. Cody's Public House 1658 W Barry Ave, Chicago, IL 60657 (Lakeview)

Thing to note: though it may look like it from the outside, and even when you step inside, Cody’s is not your average dive bar. Yes, bottles of Old Style and cans of Schlitz (among other brews) are dirt cheap, and yes you’ll pay for them in cash only in between rounds in the dart room. Those pretzel sticks at the bar, yes, they’re free. And sure, bring your dog, but also -- and here’s where it leaves “average” territory -- bring your own brats or burger patties, because there are two grills out back for patrons to use between rounds of bocce.

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4. Old Town Ale House 219 W North Ave, Chicago, IL 60610 (Old Town)

Old Town Ale House is an iconic Chicago dive bar whose crowd varies between comedians from nearby Second City, hipsters, tried-and-true regulars, and tourists (due in no small part to the bar's feature on Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. ) The jukebox, which is usually playing jazz, rules the show, but don't be surprised if one of the bartenders puts on some opera to water down the crowd. The wall is covered with funky paintings of everyone from longtime regulars to celebrities and politicians... case in point: a portrait of a naked Sarah Palin holding a rifle.

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5. Richard's Bar 491 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60610 (River North)

First thing's first: smoking is legal -- and prevalent -- inside the confines of West Town's beloved Richard's. That said, if smoke bothers you, feel free to stop reading, but if you like fun, don't. Yes, you'll be drinking beer from a bar studded with ash trays, but it's cheap. And yes, you'll be dancing through foggy clouds of smoke, but to the music you've selected on the jukebox. It's divey, dark, and a damn good time... just know that a shower is in your immediate future.

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6. Alice's Lounge 3556 W Belmont Ave, Chicago, IL 60618 (Avondale)

Alice’s is largely known as one of Chicagoland’s premier spots for late-night karaoke. The Avondale dive is otherwise what you’d expect -- wood-paneled walls, cheap drinks, bowls of free snack mix, and a motley crew of lady bartenders, Alice included if you’re lucky, shaking up shots for the neighborhood’s locals. If you make your way up Belmont late one Saturday evening and the door happens to be locked, don’t despair! Ring the doorbell, and keep ringing it until someone hears you… which will likely happen when there’s a break between slurred versions of “Like a Virgin” and “Africa.”

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7. Friar Tuck 3010 N Broadway St, Chicago, IL 60657 (Lakeview)

The wooden barrel exterior of Friar Tuck belies a neon-lit, bonafide dive bar with a brick-enclosed fireplace, a smattering of randomly placed dart boards, and a pay phone. This should give you an idea of the type of establishment you’ve sauntered into, but if it doesn’t, the bar -- born in 1970 and with few, if any renovations since -- serves pitchers of your favorite cheap domestics, baskets of popcorn (for free!), and hosts a karaoke night that will keep you entertained into the wee hours of the morning. And if you’re wondering what that inflatable sheep is doing there, ask the bartender… and be prepared to take a shot of their choosing from the ruminant’s hind quarters.

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