Food & Drink

25 Signs You're in a Real Chicago Dive Bar

signs you're in a real chicago dive bar
Sean Cooley/Thrillist

Sometimes you need a break from $12 craft cocktails slung by some stereotypical mustachioed “mixologist” and his vintage bowtie. Luckily, in a city like Chicago where the collars run blue, there’s no shortage of old-school dive bars that will be super unimpressed by your presence. And while many bars on the scene these days claim to be authentic, there’s only one way to know you’re in a real Chicago dive (or 25 ways, to be more precise). From Polish beers to racing turtles, here they are.

1. There’s an Old Style sign hanging out front

The absolute dead giveaway.

2. You can get booze to-go

Because you’ve stumbled into a glorious Chicago “slashie.”

3. They’ve got legit Polish brews

And actually know how to pronounce them correctly.

4. The Tamale Guy is there

And he’s not screwing around.

5. The words “packaged” and “goods” appear anywhere in the bar’s name

Always a key indicator.

6. It opens at 7am

Because Starbucks is for the weak.

7. There are nude portraits of Trump and Palin

And the owner is the one who painted them.

8. You can smoke inside (nine years after the smoking ban went into effect)

Looks like you’ve wandered into Richard’s. Don’t ask any questions.

9. There are vending machines for Lotto scratch tickets

And you will promptly spend all of your Malört money on them.

10. You can sing karaoke until 4am

We’re looking at you, Alice.

11. There are peanut shells on the floor

And, somehow, you find them in your hair. The next morning. When you’re at work.

12. It’s got one of these

And the regulars still use it.

13. Your can of Schlitz has been chilling in and is served from a rusty old cooler

Is there any other way?

14. The bathroom looks like this

And this one’s on the nicer side...

15. Dogs are allowed

And some are even sitting at the bar.

16. The owner lives upstairs

And has been there since before you were born, kiddo.

17. There are microwaves for public use

And no one knows when the hell they were last cleaned.

turtle races chicago dive bar
Sean Cooley/Thrillist

18. There are turtle races

At Big Joe’s, even the loser is a winner (you get a free drink!).

19. There is a jar of pickled eggs behind the bar that dates back to the Eisenhower administration

Proceed with caution. Or better yet, just don’t.

20. This is the bar’s idea of romance

Perfect for Valentine’s Day and anniversaries.

21. Questionable odors abound

It’s all part of the “atmosphere.”

22. It looks like the type of place a serial killer might frequent

And, in the case of L&L, it probably is. (Local lore dictates that both Jeffrey Dahmer and John Wayne Gacy were once customers.)

23. You can grill your own meats

You’ve heard of BYOB. At locals joints like Cody’s, it’s BYOM.

24. You do birthday shots out of an inflatable sheep’s butt

Because Friar Tuck believes in tradition.

25. It promises air conditioning as a selling point

Just what you want in the winter.

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Jay Gentile is a Thrillist contributor and has been known to do shots in weirder places than a sheep’s butt. Follow @innerviewmag.