Much like its dining scene, River North’s drinking culture comes with a lot of over-hyped, under-delivering bars and clubs. However, if you’re willing to dig just beyond that glossy façade of bottle service and ubiquitous “handcrafted” cocktails, you’ll find a handful of spots that are truly worth their salt. Here are the 11 best places to booze in River North.
Best whiskey bar: Bub City
435 N Clark St
Armed with 150 whiskeys, Lettuce Entertain You’s Southern-inspired concept is an obvious choice for connoisseurs and casual drinkers alike. Come down for live country karaoke every Tuesday at 10pm, and a killer weekend brunch, flush with gut-busting comfort fare.
Best beercade: Headquarters River North
213 W Institute Pl
Where else in the neighborhood can you grasp a can of Half Acre Daisy Cutter in one hand and a gaming controller in the other? Nowhere, that’s where.
Best piano bar: Howl at the Moon
26 W Hubbard St
Dueling pianos playing danceable beats? Check. Energetic vibe? Yup. Plastic buckets overflowing with neon-hued sharable cocktails? You betcha.
Best beer bar: Howells and Hood
435 N Michigan Ave
With 114 unique varieties of domestic and international beers, this colossal hall hosts Chicago’s largest draft selection. Overwhelmed? Get your feet wet with a flight -- curated or build-your-own -- and then dive into the 2013 Hamburger Hop-winning Kimchi Burger.
Best Irish pub: The Kerryman
66 N Clark St
Effortlessly bridging the gap between raucous sports bar and casually elegant eatery, The Kerryman delivers whether you’ve come for a Notre Dame game or just a fish & chips and cold beer fix out on the lush, jungle-like patio.
Best bar food: Bottlefork
441 N Clark St
Chef Kevin Hickey and the Rockit Ranch Productions gang’s fancy bar snacks -- like braised beef cheek poutine and a bag of sea salt and malt vinegar powder chips tossed with an egg -- complement head barkeep Brandon Phillips’ inventive cocktails beautifully, so if you’ve never thought to yourself, “The only thing that would make this cocktail even better is a side of popcorn sweetbreads,” you should now.
Best views: The Terrace at Trump
401 N Wabash Ave
Wrapping around the 16th floor of Trump Hotel Chicago, this seasonal sky-high lounge offers unparalleled views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago River. Drinks are exquisitely balanced, and some include flavor-infused ice cubes to make ‘em good to the last drop. Catch fireworks on Wednesdays and Saturdays all summer long.
Best cocktail bar: Sable Kitchen & Bar
505 N State St
When a bar’s beverage menu is equipped with a table of contents, you know it means business. Balanced and blended with top-shelf booze and predominantly local juices and herbs, each cocktail offered is a veritable work of art. Overwhelmed by all the options? The refreshing, gin-based War of the Roses and warming East of Omaha are perennial standouts.
Best dive: Rossi’s Liquors
412 N State St
With its weathered awning, unassuming Rossi’s is a breath of fresh air from the neighborhood’s swankier spots -- provided your idea of “fresh air” includes inexpensive drinks, a jukebox, and remarkably diverse clientele.
Best Tiki drinks: Three Dots and a Dash
435 N Clark St
This subterranean retro Tiki lounge from Lettuce Entertain You is easy to find -- just look for the line that wraps around from the back-alley entry. There are over 200+ rums, which means you'll never have to ask, "Why is all the rum gone?!" like Johnny Depp did in that delightful fantasy swashbuckler film based on a theme park ride.
Best Champagne bar: Pops for Champagne
601 N State St
Light and airy in daylight and demure in the evening with $1 oysters on Tuesdays and Thursdays, this Champagne bar has remained River North’s go-to for après-work bottle popping and toast-worthy celebrations since 1982.
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1. Bub City435 N Clark St, Chicago
2. Headquarters Beercade213 W. Institute Place, Chicago
3. Howl at the Moon26 W Hubbard St, Chicago
4. Howells & Hood435 N Michigan Ave, Chicago
5. The Kerryman661 N Clark St, Chicago
6. Bottlefork441 N Clark, Chicago
7. The Terrace at Trump521 N Rush St, Chicago
8. Sable505 N State, Chicago
9. Three Dots and a Dash435 N Clark St, Chicago
10. Pops for Champagne601 N State St, Chicago
Nashville comes to River North through the doors at Lettuce Entertain You’s Bub City, whose award-winning barbecue, 100-plus whiskey labels, and live music can make you forget about that deep Chicago chill. The all-American bar brings the heat from down South with dishes like barbecued brisket (get the burnt ends), fried chicken sandwiches (the Original 8 Buck Cluck is best served with a side of those aforementioned burnt ends), spoonbread, and baby back mac & cheese. To drink, you can sip on anything from a can of Bud to a pour of Pappy Van Winkle himself. Enjoy live country music multiple nights a week, and be prepared for a rowdy dance party.
The River North location of Headquarters Beercade features pinball and classic arcade games, as well as an extensive craft beer menu and specialty cocktails.
Energetic vibe? Check. Dueling pianos playing danceable beats? Yup. Plastic buckets overflowing with neon-hued sharable cocktails? You betcha’.
From the folks behind Old Town Pour House and Sweetwater, Howells & Hood is an epic beer hall in the Trib Tower, equipped with 114 beers on tap springing from 360 draft faucets spread across the 23,000sqft venue. With copper-topped bars and inscriptions on the travertine-tiled walls, the restaurant replicates the epic neo-Gothic design of the landmark space credited to John Howells and Raymond Hood, who thankfully weren't name Lipschitz and McDingleberry.
Effortlessly dancing the line between raucous sports bar and casually elegant eatery, The Kerryman will suit you whether you’ve come for a Notre Dame game or just a fish and chips and cold beer fix out on the lush, jungle-like patio.
Bottlefork has hands down the best bar food in River North. Chef Kevin Hickey and the Rockit Ranch Productions gang’s fancy snacks -- like braised beef cheek poutine -- complement head barkeep Brandon Phillips’ inventive cocktails beautifully. So if you’ve never thought to yourself, “The only thing that would make this cocktail even better is a side of popcorn sweetbreads,” now you should.
Another special occasion spot with out-of-this-world unobstructed views, the Terrace at Trump is pretty spectacular when it comes to looking points of Chicago. The unrestrained views of the river, lake, and city peer through the skyscrapers and over the bridges, creating an awe-inspiring feeling of depth in a city oasis. Note: you’re paying for the view and the venue, not the drinks, so opt for wine over cocktails. Also, having a Lobster Maitake Roll and the K-Chick Steam Bun can't hurt.
Sable's a 153-seat dark-hued, brightly lit, open-kitchened dining room and lounge whose haute cuisine-meets-comfort menu is designed to marry with a cocktail program crafted by a Violet Hour alum, who can in turn help you graduate beyond your usual schnapps and soda.
Three Dots and a Dash is a tiki-themed speakeasy in the back of Bub City that's pouring out crazy tropical cocktails in vessels like glass skulls and treasure chests.
If you can’t decide which you prefer -- poppin’ bottles or poppin’ $1 oysters -- why not decide on BOTH at this happy hour favorite? Hit them up on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3-7pm. Throw in some live music and you experience some Gatsby-style decadence.