On St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago, the opportunities for bad decisions are endless. From drinking through dinner to trying to take the train to the parade to going anywhere near Kelly’s and McGee’s, there are innumerable ways for your annual celebration of Celtic pride to devolve into amateur hour if you’re not careful. Luckily, not all Irish bars are terrible on St. Patrick’s Day, some are actually pretty damn decent. So pick your holiday drinking spot wisely and don’t wind up like that girl with the shamrock earrings crying on the curb.
Chicago's Best Irish Bars
There will be a long wait on St. Patrick’s Day, this is true. But you will be rewarded with a douche-free, authentic Irish oasis best known for its massive Irish breakfast, which is basically a food bomb of bacon, bangers, eggs, black and white pudding, baked beans, and white toast. What comes after a food bomb? Irish car bombs, naturally. On non-holidays, sip a Dirty Pirate (Sailor Jerry, Guinness, Coke, and blackcurrant) while bitching about the mayor. Or tell him to his face.
Lady Gregory’s is almost too classy for St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago. Don’t believe us? Check out the “library room” for proof. In addition to offering sophisticated opportunities for the fake reading of Irish classics, this spot is also highly regarded for its lobster mac and cheese and fireplace vibe that makes a perfect spot for awkward Tinder dates. If you are dating on St. Patty’s Day, expect bagpipe players and the least amount of annoyance available. Depending, of course, on your date.
A River North bar on St. Patty’s day?! We know it looks bad, but Brehon’s location stashed away on Wells helps it avoid the usual St. Pat’s pitfalls. Yes, it is crowded, but not annoyingly so. Yes, there’s corned beef and green Jell-O shooters. But no, you won’t have to fight any meatheads in green mohawks to get some. And if all else fails, there’s always Golden Tee. On non-holidays, chill with locals and reminisce about the time the Sun-Times and Better Government Association used the bar to set up corrupt city inspectors in a sting operation.
Depicted in films from Backdraft and Uncle Buck to Oceans Eleven and U.S. Marshals, this firemen-owned former mobster hangout was once a prime location for the high-minded civic art of midget tossing. Clooney claims to be a fan and if he were to show up on St. Patty’s Day, he would find long lines (although he’s Clooney so not really), bagpipe players standing on the bar, and corned beef sandwiches to pair with SoCo and lime shooters. There are worse ways to spend St. Pat’s in Chicago. Much, much worse.
While probably the most “popular” St. Patrick’s Day bar in this list, Galway Arms keeps things manageable by spreading out the debauchery over three levels. The outdoor patio is hands-down one of the finest spots to be on the high holiday (although you’ll have to sleep there the night before to grab a spot), and the authenticity of its Irish offerings from black and tans to fish ‘n' chips is not to be trifled with. Will it be packed? Yes. Will there be Jameson shooters? Hell yes.
If you want authentic, you go to Chief O’Neill’s. The back patio tent is one of the city’s top locations for the St. Patrick’s Day experience, where Irish dancers and buffet eats mingle with a more diverse crowd including families, the middle aged and beer-chugging youngins. You can argue whether or not Chief O’Neill’s one of the “Top 10 Irish Bars in the World” as their website claims (without attribution), but you can’t argue with their Guinness pour.
No frills. No gimmicks. No BS. The Grafton is just a good time. Where else can you sip Chocolate Cheery mead and Sump Imperial stout over homemade beef and Guinness stews while listening to live music throughout the week in one of the city’s top fireplace bars? We think you know the answer. On St. Patty’s Day, it’s got everything you need but -- perhaps more importantly -- nothing that you don’t. Lively without being soul-crushing, The Grafton walks the line as fine as any bar in Chicago.
While everyone in Beverly flocks to Cork & Kerry on St. Patty’s, a more desirable South Side destination is the laid-back digs of this friendly neighborhood dive, which also happens to be one of the oldest bars in the city. It’s legendary throughout local history as “Little City Hall” for shady political deals from the era of the smoke-filled back room, and today you can ask one of the members of the Shinnick family you’ll probably find behind the vintage Brunswick bar about it. A couple things to note: 1) the Cubs play the Sox at the Cell this St. Patty’s Day weekend. 2) The bar is just a couple blocks from the stadium. You do the math.
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Jay Gentile is a Thrillist contributor and he is never too classy for St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago. Follow @innerviewmag
1. O'Shaughnessy's Public House4557 N Ravenswood Ave, Chicago
2. Lady Gregory's5260 N Clark St, Chicago
3. Brehon Pub731 N Wells St, Chicago
4. Emmit's Irish Pub495 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago
5. Galway Arms2442 N Clark St, Chicago
6. Chief O'Neill's Pub & Restaurant3471 N Elston Ave, Chicago
7. The Grafton Pub4530 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago
8. Shinnick's Pub3758 S Union, Chicago
This upscale Irish pub is a neighborhood hangout known for its outrageous Irish breakfast, a smorgasbord of bacon, bangers, eggs, baked beans, black and white pudding and white toast. Wash it all down with a Dirty Pirate (Sailor Jerry, Guinness, coke and blackcurrant). If you want something a bit simpler, there are 14 Irish, English and specialty draught beers in addition to plenty of bottled and domestic options.
From the folks behind similarly literary-themed Irish sibs Beckett's and Wilde, Lady Gregory's intricate dark wood moldings and book-lined library (complete with a portrait of its namesake) provide a fitting backdrop for sampling their 300-strong whiskey list. Floor-to-ceiling windows beckon you inside, and once you realize you're in an Irish pub with a passion for farm-to-table, sustainable, local ingredients, you'll probably stay for dinner.
Brehon brings 30+ years of pints and pub food to River North, all enjoyed saddled up to the antique bar or over a game of darts. With daily specials and a weeknight happy hour, there's always something new going on. Try to make it for their famous St. Patrick's Day party, complete with corned beef and green jello shots.
Before Emmit's opened in River West in 1996, the site was a bank with ties to the mob, then a bar popular with cops before getting shut down in the mid-1980s for dwarf tossing. In its current incarnation, Emmit's has appeared in movies such as Ocean's Eleven, Backdraft, and Uncle Buck . So yeah, it's a storied place. There's plenty of beer and whiskey to go around, and there's a food menu with shepherd's pie, Guinness-battered fish & chips, and not-so-Irish things like nachos and mozzarella sticks.
The 90-year-old building it lives in may lend this place an air of authenticity, but live Irish music and a strong Irish whiskey program might also have something to do with that. Not to mention, most of the staff is actually Irish and not just pretending to be for the tips.
Named after a Chicago policeman who supposedly saved Irish music (he reportedly collected and published the largest collection of Irish music ever), Chief O’Neill’s in Avondale is the place to go for an authentic pub experience. Its huge drink menu covers everything from Irish, North American, and Scotch whiskey to local craft beers, and is matched in size only by the food menu, on which you’ll find traditional dishes like corned beef and cabbage alongside vegetarian plates. Add a backyard patio, and you’ve got a great spot to take in some Irish jigs.
The Grafton Pub has all of your favorite things: a huge whiskey list (separated by country of origin), an equally huge beer list (both bottle and draft, with a separate "Foreigners" section), hearty eats (like the Guinness beef stew), and live music. There are some surprises as well, such as Chocolate Cheery mead and Sump Imperial Stout.
Solidifying Bridgeport’s reputation as the city’s epicenter of booze and politics, this no-frills local pub's (formerly smoke-filled) back room has reportedly hosted enough shady political deals that the bar is also known as "Little City Hall". It's also believed to have been constructed for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition.