An editor's guide to drinking around town

Thrillist Senior Editor Matt Lynch drinks two beers in Chicago

An editor's guide to drinking around town
An editor's guide to drinking around town


Given that the weather makes staying inside necessary for, like, nine months out of the year, Chicagoans have developed quite an affinity for drinking, and, of course, when it's finally nice enough to go outside, it's like, "Yay! Now we can drink outside!" As a result, there is no shortage of places to get your booze on, and Senior Editor Matt Lynch is here to recommend his favorites for any occasion.
Best Cocktails: Opened by an alum of the Violet Hour (which would certainly be in the running for this spot as well), Barrelhouse Flat has both an encyclopedic repertoire of old classics and a monthly rotating selection of intriguing innovations from the talented staff

Best Cocktails for the Decision-Challenged: Scofflaw has a tight, well-conceived, reasonably priced, gin-focused menu. Yes, they have some non-gin drinks. Yes, you should give one of the gin concoctions a shot, even if you think you aren't a gin person

Best Drink: If you're a cocktail novice, Balena conveniently rates its Amaro-heavy cocktail menu on a scale of 1 to 10 from least to most bitter. My preference lies somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, so the Francesco (Averna Amaro, Templeton rye, Carpano Antica & Cointreau), rated a 5, is right in my wheelhouse

Best Beer Bar: Bangers & Lace has 32 taps that rotate constantly, consistently offering brews you won't find many other places in the city. The most interesting stuff's usually located in the six-pack, an antique ice box with a hodgepodge of taxidermy resting on top of it

Best Brewpub: Although they've now started bottling and canning thanks to the massive brewing facility seen above, (whose taproom is also worth a visit), the original Revolution Brewing is still the place to get beers you won't find on the shelves, and pair them with bacon-fat popcorn or a burger topped with house-made pastrami

Best Brewery: North Center's Half Acre is more well-integrated into its neighborhood than any other brewery in the city, and it became even more visitor-friendly with the addition of its taproom, with 10 beers steadily pouring, plus experimental one-off casks and firkins on Fridays

Best Place to Day Drink: Though, I admit, it seems like it's reached to the point where one has to camp out to score a seat on the patio on a nice day, downing taco-accompanied margaritas and cold ones at Big Star remains well worth the effort

Best Wine Bar: Mark Mendez's Spanish menu makes Vera a worthy destination even if you aren't drinking, but his wife Elizabeth's wine program makes it equally worthwhile if you don't plan on eating. Pro tip: do both

Best Club: My personal taste tends more towards double-fisting fine craft beers (see up top), but I can say that Studio Paris is a favorite among my more club-inclined friends, and draws a pretty eye-opening list of international talent

Easiest Place to Get Laid: I've heard The Hangge Uppe described as a "late-night institution" and a "perpetual sh*t show", with the labyrinthine downstairs blasting every old song you've ever wanted to belt out after having a few too many. Full disclosure: I've had friends meet their spouses here, so that one night stand may end up being the best (or worst) thing that ever happened to you

Best Dive Bar: Happy Village's two ping-pong tables are NOT employed for drinking games, but rather for table tennis that can get surprisingly heated. But there's still plenty of drinking going on, particularly in the tented back patio that looks like someone is preparing to host a high school graduation party

Best Local Bar: Old Town Ale House has gotten love from Anthony Bourdain and the late Roger Ebert in the last several months, but that doesn't seem to have inundated it with tourists as of yet. Fine, I did see Jason Sudeikis and Olivia Wilde there recently, but Jason has Second City & Improv Olympic ties, so it's cool. And Olivia Wilde can drink wherever she pleases

Best Jukebox: It's a personal preference, but I tend to like my jukeboxes with music as old as they are, and Richard's Bar is a throwback dive with a jukebox full of classics. If you tend to like things a little more up to date, Simon's Tavern does a phenomenal job keeping theirs interesting.

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1. Barrelhouse Flat 2624 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60614 (Lincoln Park)

This two-floor throwback cocktail bar in Lincoln Park churns out classic tipples like Sazeracs, Old Fashioneds and Manhattans alongside lesser-known drinks like the Jimmie Roosevelt, a blend of cognac, green chartreuse and Champagne. Choose from 60+ varieties of shaken or stirred drinks.

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2. Scofflaw 3201 W Armitage Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 (Logan Square)

This classy bar in Logan Square will make a gin lover out of even the most gin-averse of clientele. It's one of Chicago's top cocktail bars because it proves that the versatility of gin extends far beyond the usual G&T and because it's outfitted with antique sofas that are palatial AND comfortable. Scofflaw also serves a menu of better-than-basic small bites, and the kitchen is open until 1am daily.

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3. Balena 1633 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614 (Lincoln Park)

The menu at this acclaimed collaborative effort between Boka Restaurant Group and B. Hospitality Co. showcases executive chef/partner Chris Pandel's modern-yet-homey interpretation of Italian cuisine, and spans from hearth-fired pizzas and burrata di panna to far-from-ordinary house-made pastas, including tagliolini nero tossed with crab, sea urchin, and mint, and walnut pesto-coated Sardinian gnocchi. The concept also offers an exceptional brunch program packed with sweet and savory dishes.

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4. Bangers & Lace 1670 W Division St, Chicago, IL 60622 (Wicker Park)

Wicker Park's craft beer and sausage haven Bangers & Lace serves up just that: delicious craft suds from the US and abroad, like Great Divide's Barrel-Aged Old Ruffian and St. Feuillen's Grand Cru, and sausage creations including kielbasa skewers and Louisiana-style hot links. The extensive food menu features build-a-biscuit breakfast sandwiches, too.

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5. Half Acre Tap Room 4257 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60618 (North Center)

Half Acre's tap room can house nearly 100 suds enthusiasts in a lodge-like drinking nook sporting Douglas fir tables, weathered walls re-purposed from a Wisconsin grain elevator, and a painting of a brew-swilling bear. On the menu are plenty of IPAs and pale ales (like the Vicious Pet IPA or Tuna), as well as hush puppies, duck melon bruschetta, and roasted bone marrow and other savory bites to pair.

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6. Big Star 1531 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60622 (Chicago)

A lot of things about Wicker Park's Big Star will make you feel like you're in Texas. First, there's the taco-centric menu that features a dozen taco varieties and necessary sides like guacamole and queso. Then there's the drink selection, which is heavy on whiskey, tequila, and craft beer. The massive outdoor patio begs for you to order a margarita and drink the day away, especially during the summer when the seasonal music series is in full swing.

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7. Vera 1023 W Lake St, Chicago, IL 60607 (West Loop)

This Spanish-leaning wine bar offers seasonally rotating vinos alongside shareable plates like bacon-wrapped dates, ceviche, paella, and charcuterie.

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8. Studio Paris 59 W Hubbard St, Chicago, IL 60654 (River North)

French-inspired fare headlines this bistro in Chicago's River North neighborhood. Get Francophilic with a selection of fine French Champagnes, updates on classics like chicken paillard and short rib bourguignon, and tons of shellfish, including Le Grand Plateau with lobster, oysters, snow crab claws, shrimp, and king crab.

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9. The Hangge-Uppe 14 W Elm St, Chicago, IL 60610 (Near North Side)

Getting lost in a bar may never have been so fun. As a Chicago staple for more than 30yrs, this massive dual-level dance haven offers five differently themed bars, three dance floors, and a variety of '50s through '80s rock and disco on one floor and modern hits on another. With drink specials galore and a pair of all-request DJs, we dare you not to break a sweat at the Hangge-Uppe.

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10. Happy Village 1059 N Wolcott Ave, Chicago, IL 60622 (Ukrainian Village)

Happy Village might be very unassuming from the outside, but the interior features a flurry of paddles and balls -- a Ping-Pong room (what'd you think we meant?). Additionally, this cash-only establishment features a friendly small-town atmosphere, cheap booze, and a pleasant patio area to enjoy some fresh air while sipping suds.

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

The Old Town Ale House is an iconic Chicago dive bar whose crowd varies between comedians from nearby Second City, celebrities, 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, and 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 in point: a portrait of a naked Sarah Palin holding a rifle.

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12. Simon's Tavern 5210 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60640 (Andersonville)

This Swedish-centric joint in Andersonville is decked in Viking swag and serves up warm winter drinks like Glögg, a hot mulled wine.

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13. Revolution Brewing Company 3340 N Kedzie Ave, Chicago, IL 60618 (Logan Square)

Chicago-brewed suds from Revolution Brewing in Logan Square include year-rounders like the Anti-Hero IPA and Eugene Porter, while seasonals and specialty brews count the Fistmas holiday and Rose Hibiscus ales.