Food & Drink

How to Get Into Chicago's Secret Bars

chicago's secret bars
Bordel

You might not know this, but we're actually terrible at keeping secrets, especially when it comes to bars. And while you might know about a bunch of these already (because, again: us), there just might be a few you don't. Consider this your beginner's guide to Chicago bars that are -- in some way (hidden entrance!) or another (no address!) -- secret.

Bordel

Wicker Park

As the west-of-Ashland stretch of Division Ave continues to attract more bros-to-the-wall by the minute, Bordel remains a charming cocktail lounge that stands firmly against the soul-crushing waves of party buses. Part of the reason is probably because the second-story establishment has an unmarked door. Actually, that’s probably all of the reason. Once inside, visitors can expect classic cocktails, table service that serves up booze in a tea set, and live performances that range from burlesque to flamenco dancing.
How to get in: Open the door located to the right of the Black Bull entrance, head up the stairs, and then open the next door on your left.

FLICKR/JUSTIN KERN

The Pub

Hyde Park

Located in the gorgeous Ida Noyes Hall on University of Chicago’s campus, The Pub is a historic bar that looks like the kind of place Harry Potter and all his broom-riding wizard friends would hang out. Also: students, faculty, and staff of the university, because those are the only people who can buy a membership to this private club. If you manage to tag along with a member, inside you’ll find old-timey photos, 24 beers on tap, and more than 100 bottled brews. And wine, if you’re into that sort of thing.
How to get in: Find a member, follow them to The Pub (with their permission hopefully), and once you get there, purchase a visitor’s day pass for $3.

the drifter

The Drifter

River North

The Green Door Tavern is a historic watering hole with a notably vintage vibe. And beneath it you’ll find The Drifter, which somehow actually feels even more vintage-ier. That’s because it wasn’t designed as a speakeasy: it’s an ACTUAL speakeasy from the tragically thirsty days of Prohibition. Restored to a sparkling sheen, The Drifter offers a new cocktail menu every night and quirky entertainment that includes burlesque shows.
How to get in: Enter the Green Door Tavern, walk through the bar, head down the stairs in the back, and you’ll come to a waiting room. Capacity is 37, so you may have to wait a bit.

courtesy of cousin daniel

Booze Box

West Loop

Located in Sushi Dokku’s basement, Booze Box is a dark and sexy bar where you’ll find great drinks, Japanese bites, and a laid-back vibe. Hip-hop on the speakers is pretty common and the red lighting makes this a great spot for a date/million-dollar diamond heist planning session.
How to get in: Head to the alley located just south of Sushi Dokku and find the door with a Booze Box sticker near its handle.

watershed

Watershed

River North

River North has plenty of loud spots that are about as wallet-friendly as a munchies-induced visit to Whole Foods. Watershed is not one of them. This subterranean lounge is definitely a looker, and the comfy booths and sofa seats have a tendency to make time melt away. You won’t mind one bit though, since the cocktails here are great and a $5 shot-and-beer special is available daily.
How to get in: Head into Pops for Champagne and find the stairs in the Southeast corner of the bar.

ireland's

Ireland's

Rogers Park

Unlike other student-frequented bars that you're not allowed to go to anymore, we fully encourage you to check out this unique drinkery located in the basement of Loyola University Chicago’s Damen Student Center. It’s actually a student-run operation, and the ones working here are getting hands-on experience on how to run a full-blown bar. Expect a menu of pub-style food, frosty pints, and a few communal tables. It’s also a solid spot to grab a beer before, during, or after Rambler basketball games.
How to get in: Find the stairs next to the food court inside the Damen Student Center and head down. Also, the bar is closed when school isn’t in session (from May 8 to August 24).

baby atlas

Baby Atlas

Lakeview

On the exterior wall of Matilda bar, there’s a curious sign that simply reads “Baby Atlas.” While it sounds like a clothing line for plus-sized toddlers, it’s actually the turnt-up lounge located in the basement of Matilda. A night-and-day difference from its upstairs neighbor, Baby Atlas is a small, loud boozery where you’ll probably have to shout-talk but also probably won’t even care because you’ll be busy CRUSHING IT like a Beyonce backup dancer.
How to get in: Walk inside Matilda, find the stairs in the back of the bar, and head down.

the fifth province

The Fifth Province

Irving Park

The Fifth Province is a traditional Irish pub, but its location is about as traditional as wearing clown shoes to a non-clown wedding. Located in the South wing of the Irish American Heritage Center, the pub is completely hidden away from plain view. The building itself looks very much like a local high school, so finding a bar inside really makes it seem like you’ve stumbled upon a Stonemasons hangout. In addition to hearty pub fare and pints of Guinness, you can expect live music after 9pm.
How to get in: Enter through the main doors of the center, take a left and head down the hall. The bar has limited hours, however: Fridays and Saturdays from 6pm-12:30am.

raf miastkowski/thrillist

Room 13

Lakeview

With a discreet alleyway entrance just to the left of the Old Chicago Inn, this is perhaps the most traditionally “secret” bar in town. Protected with an ever-changing password for members only, you can either apply for membership for a yearly fee or earn an invite by staying at the hotel. Your reward? Mixology-perfect drinks from the 1920s (did someone say Manhattan?), served with a healthy side of secrecy.
How to get in: Apply for a membership at the Old Chicago Inn, or book a room there.

FLICKR/JOH_1370

The Office

West Loop

Located below The Aviary is one of the most exclusive rooms in town, the entrance to this Grant Achatz-backed den of $22 cocktail art is secured by invitation only. A workaround? Book a private party for up to 16; then they have to let you in.
How to get in: Ask around upstairs for an invitation, or book the room for a private party.

east room

​​​​​​​East Room

Logan Square

If you define “secret” as “not having a sign,” this Logan Square hotspot fits the bill nicely, with nothing but a black alley door and red light enabling you access to a dimly lit lair of exposed brick, black curtains, and ubiquitous PBRs. But it’s not all dark and brooding inside -- grab a wooden picnic table on its bright outdoor patio space surrounded by graffiti art from people who clearly already know about this place.
How to get in: Locate the nondescript side entrance off Medill, and look for the red light above the door, which is lit when the bar is open.

door number 3 / photo by gene ambo

​​​​​​​Door No. 3

Wicker Park

Double Door’s speakeasy-style basement lounge has its own separate entrance in the alley under the Blue Line tracks that gives it the feel of secrecy. And that’s all you really want in a secret bar, isn’t it? Home to DJ acts who often spin after the upstairs bands put down their guitars, this is a world diametrically opposed to the dive bar feel above, featuring leather seating, blue-hued lighting, and a sexy steel staircase.
How to get in: Find the sign in the alley off Damen, under the Blue Line tracks, or just head downstairs from the main venue room on nights when there's a show.

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Raf always likes to divulge secrets to thousands of people at a time. Send him your most-guarded tips @RafFoSho.
 
Jay is a Thrillist contributor and equally terrible at keeping secrets. Follow @innerviewmag

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
1. Bordel 1721 W Division St, Chicago, IL 60622 (Wicker Park)

Bordel remains a charming cocktail lounge that stands firmly against the soul-crushing waves of party buses, thanks to the second-story establishment's unmarked door. Once inside, visitors can expect classic cocktails, table service that serves up booze in a tea set, and live performances that range from burlesque to flamenco dancing.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
2. The Pub 1212 E 59th St, Chicago, IL 60637 (Hyde Park)

If you aren’t a student at the University of Chicago, find someone who is and make friends with them fast because The Pub is a members-only (and guests) joint. Located in the basement of UChicago’s Ida Noyes building, The Pub is almost exactly what you would expect to find in a university basement: dark, loud, and filled with students. What you wouldn’t expect is the long list of craft beers on tap as well as their big menu featuring comfort foods that are way better than dining hall food. The midwest is known for it’s craft brewing, and The Pub is dedicated to finding and serving great beer with their weekly beer passport that features a new beer from a new brewery.

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3. The Drifter Chicago 678 N. Orleans, Chicago, IL 60654 (River North)

The Drifter is an intimate basement-level former speakeasy/cocktail bar with eccentric nightly entertainment and a tarot card-inspired cocktail menu. Located below the Green Door Tavern (which was an actual speakeasy during Prohibition), its burlesque shows goes down quick and dirty with no announcement and no advance warning on a small stage that makes it feel like the show is just for you. Members of the Chicago Starlets shake their stuff in between musicians and variety acts amidst charming, vintage décor.

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4. Booze Box 823 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60607 (West Loop)

Located in Sushi Dokku’s basement, Booze Box is a dark and sexy bar where you’ll find great drinks, Japanese bites, and a laid-back vibe. Hip-hop on the speakers is pretty common and the red lighting makes this a great spot for a date/million-dollar diamond heist planning session.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
5. Watershed 601 N State St, Chicago, IL 60654 (River North)

Covering what was once Pops For Champagne's jazz rathskeller in a neighborly mixture of upholstered armchairs and high-backed wooden booths, Watershed's pouring a 50-strong beer list heavy on Midwest micros (Great Lakes, Metropolitan, Bell's) along with specialty 'tails like the Shake in the Hay (North Shore Gin no. 6, green chartreuse, lime, cucumber syrup, celery bitters).

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6. Ireland's Damen Student Center, Chicago, IL 60626 (Rogers Park)

Ireland’s is named after legendary Loyola basketball coach, George Ireland, who controversially had four black players in his lineup for the 1963 NCAA championship game against Mississippi State where they won their first ever championship. Now in the basement of the Damen Student Center, the students who run Loyola’s first and only student-run bar carry on his winning tradition with Chicago-style hot dogs and signature paninis. It feels less like a university pub and more like a sports bar with photo’s of Ireland’s team, high-top tables, and TVs, so even if you’re not a student you will still enjoy the O’hara’s Irish beers and other rotating taps.

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7. Baby Atlas 3101 N Sheffield Ave, Chicago, IL 60657 (Lakeview)

On the exterior wall of Matilda bar, there’s a curious sign that simply reads “Baby Atlas.” While it sounds like a clothing line for plus-sized toddlers, it’s actually the turnt-up lounge located in the basement of Matilda. A night-and-day difference from its upstairs neighbor, Baby Atlas is a small, loud boozery where you’ll probably have to shout-talk but also probably won’t even care because you’ll be busy CRUSHING IT like a Beyonce backup dancer.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
8. Fifth Province 4626 N Knox Ave, Chicago, IL 60630 (Irving Park)

The Fifth Province is a traditional Irish pub, but its location is about as traditional as wearing clown shoes to a non-clown wedding. Located in the South wing of the Irish American Heritage Center, the pub is completely hidden away from plain view. The building itself looks very much like a local high school, so finding a bar inside really makes it seem like you’ve stumbled upon a Stonemasons hangout. In addition to hearty pub fare and pints of Guinness, you can expect live music after 9pm.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
9. Room 13 3222 N Sheffield Ave, Chicago, IL 60657 (Lakeview)

This secret speakeasy is home to old slot machines, prohibition era-style cocktails, and lots of dark, musty detail to make you really feel like you've stepped back in time.

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10. The Office At Aviary 955 W Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60607 (West Loop)

This classy speakeasy is located below The Aviary, and is only accessible by invitation, or booking a private party (up to 16 people). Prepare yourself for $20+ cocktails and creative small plates with a similarly decadent price tag.

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11. East Room 2828 W Medill Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 (Logan Square)

Follow a single red lightbulb to an unmarked door off Milwaukee Ave. in Logan Square, and you’ll eventually find your way into the music venue and speakeasy that is East Room. Though its entry may lead you to believe it’s on par with the rest of the pretentious, unmarked cocktail bars of the world, one step inside and those expectations shatter. East Room is a beer-and-a-shot joint with live music, 30 beers, and 40 whiskeys to choose from. And it’s cash only, but show your receipt from the on-site ATM to the bartender… it’s your ticket to a shot of whiskey, on them.

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12. Door No. 3 1572 N. Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60622 (Wicker Park)

The team behind Wicker Park's Double Door brings you Door No. 3, a speakeasy lounge with a secret door on Damen, just under the El tracks. It has a stellar drinks menu created by none other than owner Sean Mulroney.

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