Burger. Fries. Burger. Fries. Burger. Fries. Sometimes it feels like we’re stuck in an infinite loop where every drinking establishment has a menu that’s about as exciting as going to prom with a sack of onions. Fortunately, we can always visit these 12 spots to get our fix for great bar food.
Cocktails and Cajun is something you’d expect from a Nawlins mainstay, not some local hang that isn’t even concerned with putting up a sign outside its bar. Nevertheless, the staff at Analogue is working double-time by crushing it behind the bar, as well as in the kitchen. Case in point: you can order up a variety of fishbowls, cocktails, and purls (beer with bitters) alongside crawfish hash and chicken-fried pork chops.
In the basement of Oyster Bah, Crab Cellar is the kind of spot where you just want to grab a seat next to a bearded stranger and hear him tell tales of the high seas... or at least anything besides his fantasy-football team. We can spend hours here drinking Anchor Steam and cocktails such as the Nor’easter, made with rye, Vermont maple, ginger beer, lime, and Boston “bittahs.” The top-notch food is an added bonus, and includes crispy rainbow trout and a variety of oysters that are as fresh as a sailor’s language.
This oft-overlooked gem is just a fax machine’s throw from Downtown, but has a tendency to stay off people’s radars. That just means more elbow room whenever you swing by to sample picks from the beer menu, which proudly reads that it has “no crap on tap.” So order up some steak tartare or fettuccine Bolognese, wash it down with a La Trappe Quadrupel, and top things off with chocolate stout pudding for dessert.
Lowcountry is the type of bar where you just need to go pedal to the metal in order to have the complete experience. At 10pm, picnic tables start getting cleared off for beer pong and “bro country.” Downstairs, there are several private karaoke rooms that are available for rent. At the bar, you can order up a bucket of six beers for $20, as well as margaritas and daiquiris. You should experience all these things, but not without ordering a bag -- yes, a bag -- of shrimp, corn, potatoes, and sausage boiled with Cajun spices. Roll up those sleeves and get to work.
Haywood Tavern is the kind of neighborhood tavern that you wish you had in your neighborhood. No worries, you can still visit Humboldt Park and see what all the fuss is about. (It’s mainly a lot of booze and crazy-good food.) Drinkers with blue-collar tastes can stop in for a can of Astra and shot of Bird Dog bourbon ($5), or mix it up with a 2 Towns Outcider draft ($7). Meanwhile, the menu offers plenty of snacks and bites that go hand-in-hand with drinking at the bar, including salt cod croquettes, smoked whitefish dip, and serrano ham.
Honestly, you’ve heard about the food at Hopleaf. Haggard men living in caves on the shores of Greece have heard about the mussels at Hopleaf. It’s a fact, according to science. You’ve also heard about the beer selection, which includes a Tongerlo Blond Abbey ale that won the “World’s Best Beer” award. Actually, this is just a friendly reminder that you should probably visit Hopleaf soon.
Though you might think that serving up Chinese food with tiki drinks is unusual, Won Kow in Chinatown has been doing it since before you were born. So, yes, it’s a thing, and the folks at Lost Lake and neighboring Thank You are doing a bang-up job at it. Just order a Lost Lake (rum, passionfruit, lime, pineapple, Campari, Maraschino) with sesame and cilantro BBQ chicken wings and chicken dumplings with chili oil and be at peace.
Skylark looks like the type of place where ordering food would be like buying a one-way ticket to Northwestern Memorial. For real: there’s a photo of the urinal on their website’s menu page. And yet, somehow, the food here is pretty darn good! Every Skylark regular you’ll ever meet swears by the tater tots, and you can also order up fried chicken and a plate of pierogi. Wash dinner down with some cheap drinks, and you’ve just had yourself a fancy night out on the town.
Samosas are great drinking food. As are lamb dumplings. And beef cheek pie. Actually, pretty much everything on the menu at Pub Royale is great with drinks, which include a messy, somewhat-crazy “dressed” can of Hamm’s. You’ll love it or you’ll hate it -- but you won’t forget it.
Dancen is small, dark, and has a bunch of stuff on the menu that you’re probably not familiar with. It’s also the kind of place where you should start drinking first, and then ask questions later. Grab a seat at the bar, get a cold pitcher of Hite, order some fire chicken and crispy pork skins to start, and just see how weird things get after the bartender-slash-cook whips up your meal right at the bar.
Bar Marta is a dim, sexy wine bar with an unassuming façade. It’s full of surprises and is an ideal spot for a date, or just stopping in and downing way too much wine and being completely fine with the fact that you don’t have a date. The food here is excellent, and including dishes such as salmon crudo, chicken liver toast, and a pork chop with roasted garlic that may make you swear off vegetables forever. And don’t sleep on the classic cocktails either.
Old Town Social can get a little loud, which makes for an interesting dining experience if you’re not into a buzzy scene. Yet, it also sometimes doesn’t get its due for putting together a great bar menu that also features some of the best charcuterie in Chicago. Beer-battered cheese curds, deviled eggs, fried pickles, and spicy duck wings all pair well with some cold brews. Yet, serve us a board of mortadella, pate, pepperone, and chicken liver moussem, and we’re ready to kick off our shoes and take a nap in a booth.
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Raf Miastkowski just wishes he could order ham off the wall at every bar, just like in Barcelona. Holler at him: @RafFoSho
1. Analogue2523 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago
2. Crab Cellar1962 N. Halsted , Lower Level, Chicago
3. Paramount Room415 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago
4. Lowcountry3343 N Clark St, Chicago
5. Haywood Tavern2759 W Augusta Blvd, Chicago
6. Hopleaf5148 N Clark St, Chicago
7. Lost Lake3154 W Diversey Ave, Chicago
8. Skylark2149 S Halsted St, Chicago
9. Pub Royale2049 W Division, Chicago
10. Dancen5114 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago
11. Bar Marta2700 W Chicago Ave, Chicago
12. Old Town Social455 W North Ave, Chicago
Cajun is the name of the game at this Logan Square restaurant and cocktail lounge. You could to Analogue for just a drink, but you’d probably find the dinner menu, heavy on crawfish, po boys, and catfish, too tempting to pass up. The weekend brunch is one of the best, mainly because of the beignets, biscuits, and house-made bacon.
Underneath Chicago's beloved Oyster Bah is the Crab Cellar, a basement bar with some of the best bar food in the area. In edition to their awesome eats, they have great cocktails and really work hard to immerse you in their nautical theme.
This dual-level space dishes out a number of internationally inspired dishes, and it also features a full liquor bar, craft beers, and a number of domestics as well.
Lowcountry in Lakeview serves customizable seafood boils in a Southern and nautical atmosphere with a backyard feel. Buckets of beer are a cheap solution for a big group, and the short-and-sweet roster of specialty cocktails (margaritas and daiquiris), classics and house wine still offer plenty of other options. At 10pm, picnic tables start getting cleared off for beer pong and “bro country.” Downstairs, there are several private karaoke rooms that are available for rent. Experience all of this, but not without ordering a bag -- yes, a bag -- of shrimp, corn, potatoes, and sausage boiled with Cajun spices.
This refined yet neighborhood-y restaurant has a beer-heavy drink menu and European-influenced Midwestern tavern fare guided by Longman & Eagle vet Rodney Stanton.
This Andersonville beer bar is known for its rotating selection of draft beers primarily from the Midwest and Belgium. More than just a bar that serves food, Hopleaf has an outstanding menu of Belgian-inspired food like mussels from Prince Edward Island, charcuterie, and steak frites. The place is casual and laid-back, just like a neighborhood bar should be.
Chicago Tiki mogul Paul McGee (of Three Dots and a Dash) is behind Lost Lake, a temple to all things Polynesian in Logan Square. The cocktail bar serves rum-soaked classics and originals, including daily daiquiri specials and group punches, in tiki mugs and volcano bowls. Decorated like the original Don's Beachcomber Cafe, Lost Lake is decked out with banana leaf wallpaper and thatched bamboo but doesn't have the kitschy vibe of many tiki bars.
Not only does this dive bar have some of the best tater tots in the area and an awesome beer list -- it's got a photo booth too. Warning: cash only.
This Anglo-Indian pub in Wicker Park serves Indian-inspired comfort food like salt cod samosas, palak paneer, and coconut curry mussels in an eclectic space decorated with taxidermy and colorful masks. The beer-driven menu features a well-curated mix of American IPAs, German Pilsners, and ciders -- both bottled and on tap. Though spicy, savory plates are the obvious choice at Pub Royale, don't overlook the chai dulce de leche doughnuts -- or the burger.
The authentic fire chicken, Korean music and dimly-lit ambiance almost make you forget you’re in Chicago. Dancen’s got great cocktails, and the casual environment is perfect a perfect spot to grab some drinks and a bite to eat with a few friends. Lincoln Square is a cute place to shop and hang out after your meal.
This bar-cum-eatery features house-made bread and cheeses, chicken liver toast, mussels and clams in a shellfish-pork broth with bone marrow and toast, and smoked eggplant, as well as a thorough drink list.
Old Town Social is setting out to seamlessly infuse turn-of-the-century elegance into its classic neighborhood bar confines. The upscale, spacious, high-ceiling'ed gastropub is as good a place to watch the game as it is to enjoy a nice dinner out on the town. Nestle up to the marble bar top for front row seats to the flat screens, cozy into the front room's fireplace and sip on signature cocktails, gather a group and dine on a slew of contemporary American share plates (don't skip the mac 'n cheese), and stop by the vintage shoe shine station on your way out, of course.