If you spent all of your food budget for the week sending pizza to cute strangers on Tinder, it can be hard to scrounge up a few bucks just to grab a bite on a night out with your buds. We'd hate to see you resorting to maniacal restaurant eating challenges just for sustenance, so instead we’ve got you covered with sources of free snacks that you can find when out and about in Chicago. Just be sure to ration out your freeloading, OK?
Where to Score Free Food in Chicago
Free popcorn & bar snacks
Walking into Cody’s is like walking into your buddy’s place for a barbecue. Pull up to the bar, grab a handful of free pretzel sticks, and throw a couple darts at this dog-friendly neighborhood joint. If you get hungrier, you can always go pick up some brats and grill ‘em on one of the two grills in back for nothing.
Bartenders at this intimate, leather-clad bar in the Waldorf Astoria Chicago Hotel provide the most classic of all bar snacks to whet your palatal senses: a bowl of salty mixed nuts.
With 24 rotating craft beers on tap and close to 200 more bottle and cans to choose from, you’ll need the complimentary popcorn to keep you thirsty.
The casual coffee-shop-like atmosphere of this bar and craft-brew store encourages patrons to snack on pretzels as they discuss the ins and outs of stouts, sours, and IPAs.
The massive brewing facility offers pretzels and peanuts in the upstairs taproom -- just a little something something -- which will help sop up some fiendishly high ABV percentages.
Monk’s Pub is a traditional Chicago staple. And in keeping with tradition, they provide bar goers with peanuts, inviting them to simply toss the shells on the floor.
Sip a Sazerac and savor the complimentary malt vinegar corn nuts or candied cayenne nut mix while overlooking one of the best views of Chicago. That’s some fancy snacks.
The list of daily and weekly drink specials is so long at this friendly neighborhood joint, it’s amazing they offer free popcorn when you’re already spending so little money.
Enter through the barrel-shaped doorway Wednesday nights for karaoke and warm up your vocal chords with a pint and a basket of popcorn. Or seven.
Bucktown Pub’s been serving the neighborhood since 1933, but that doesn’t mean it’s out of touch. A great list of big- and small-market beers and complimentary popcorn will keep you satiated as you wait for their next local tap takeover or patio barbecue.
Lincoln Park (& other locations)
Why you would go in and not order a burger, I don’t understand. But if you’re really only in the mood for a soda, you can always snag a scoop of free peanuts.
If you find yourself off work a little early, but don’t want to brave that rush hour train just yet, have a seat at the bar for “Aperitivo Hour” between 4pm-6pm and enjoy a gratis selection of small bites paired to your cocktail by the chef.
Come by Map Room to tackle the enviable beer list and then sink your teeth into an arrayed tasting of meats and cheeses free of charge Monday afternoons.
Chicago loves bacon and Chicagoans flock to Paddy Long’s for their incredible bacon delights. But if you’re patient enough to wait out the crowds for a beer until midnight Sunday through Thursday, you’ll find yourself the proud owner of your very own delectable bacon treat on the house.
Free pizza & chicken
Free wings on weeknights. Just beware the likelihood of hungry DePaul students. Like, a lot of them.
If you’re looking for a classy mid-afternoon manhattan, scamper over to The Florentine inside the JW Marriott to enjoy a personal pizza chaser compliments of the house. Come alone, though, because it’s only one pizza per party -- and, thus, only one cowabunga per person
Free chicken while supplies last on Monday nights -- if you can handle porn on the big screen and near-porn on the dance floor.
The cool big sister bar to Uptown’s killer brunch spot, Tweet Let’s Eat, offers locals a free bbq buffet Sunday evenings all winter long. Check out the rotating menu here.
Party like you’re at prom again Friday nights at this dueling pianos concert complete with complimentary buffet, neon cocktails, and Taylor Swift covers. On the way home, take all the money you saved on dinner and #treatyoself to an Ice Cream Donut Sandwich from Firecakes. You deserve it.
Show up just before midnight and get in line quickly as bartenders hand out warm chocolate chip cookies any night of the week. Oh, and the cocktails are mighty fine, too.
At the end of the rainbow that is America’s Route 66 lies this pot of gold: Chicago’s own Lou Mitchell’s -- one of the oldest restaurants in the state. Step inside and find your hands full of freshly made donut holes. Ladies also get a box of Milk Duds in honor of Uncle Lou, who had “an eye” for them.
Andersonville (& other locations)
You don’t have to feel sneaky getting samples at this cheese counter because the staff of cheese geeks at this small chain are eager to talk shop with you as you taste your way through the entire refrigerated curd case. And they’ll cut and sell you any size portion you ask, so you’ll likely walk out having eaten more cheese than you bought.
Eataly is home to a dozen different Italian restaurants and eateries all pulling their ingredients from the same stock of imported items they sell on the floor. Take the opportunity, then, to sample as many meats, cheeses, vinegars, and oils as you can at the before you sit down to your meal. How else can you know to order what you like?
Lincoln Park (& other locations)
Not only do they offer free bite-sized pairings of a snack and juice all day, but they change the offering to fit the hours you’re shopping. That means three-four mini-meals a day, my friend!
Lincoln Park (& other locations)
You can frequently find Mariano’s staff posted up around the store for free taste battles between name-brand and store-brand foods. That’s two snack birds for the price of none.
Lincoln Park (& other locations)
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Clear. Plastic. Domes. Also, you can sample just about anything on the shelves without question from the staff if you simply ask!
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Zack Shornick is a Thrillist contributor and will eat just about anything that comes free with booze. Follow him @zackshornick
1. Cody's Public House1658 W Barry Ave, Chicago
2. Bernard's Bar11 E Walton St, Chicago
3. Quenchers Saloon2401 N Western Ave, Chicago
4. Beermiscuous2812 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago
5. Lagunitas Brewing Company1843 S Washtenaw Ave, Chicago
6. Monk's Pub205 W Lake St, Chicago
7. Travelle330 N Wabash Ave, Chicago
8. Grace & Leavitt Fire Escape2157 W Grace St, Chicago
9. Friar Tuck's3010 N Broadway St, Chicago
10. Bucktown Pub1658 W Cortland Ave, Chicago
11. Five Guys2140 N Clybourn Ave, Chicago
12. 312 Chicago136 N LaSalle St, Chicago
13. The Map Room1949 N Hoyne Ave, Chicago
14. Paddy Long's1028 W Diversey, Chicago
15. Burwood Tap724 W Wrightwood Ave, Chicago
16. The Florentine208 S LaSalle St, Chicago
17. Evil Olive1551 W Division St, Chicago
18. Big Chicks5024 N Sheridan Rd, Chicago
19. Howl at the Moon26 W Hubbard St, Chicago
20. Scofflaw3201 W Armitage Ave, Chicago
21. Lou Mitchell's565 W Jackson Blvd, Chicago
22. Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread and Wine5212 N Clark St, Chicago
23. Eataly43 E Ohio St, Chicago
24. Trader Joe's1840 N Clybourn Ave, Chicago
25. Mariano's Fresh Market1800 W Lawrence Ave, Chicago
26. Whole Foods Market1550 N Kingsbury St, Chicago
This laid back Chicago pub's got everything you need for a chill evening: cheap brews, a nice little patio, a bocce court/beer garden, and a dart room (yes, a dart room). When the drinks are this affordable ($1.75 for a Schlitz) and the crowd is this friendly, you'd best make Cody's your new neighborhood haunt.
Bernard's has got the hookup for light-hearted and more casual fun within The Waldorf. From delicious chips & nuts at the bar to classy (yet boozy) libations, steak out a spot before hitting up any event. Trust us, it'll up your class-factor exponentially.
Opened in 1979, this laid-back corner bar on the Bucktown/Logan border was a craft beer bar way before people on the Internet were making lists of good craft beer bars. Because there was no Internet. And, there weren’t really other beer bars. They aren’t really the type to brag that they did it first, though (well, they do call themselves “Chicago’s Original Beer Bar,” but they don’t broadcast it too loudly). They’re too busy maintaining an unassailable tap list, throwing kickass rock shows in the back, and offering kickass-er specials all week. Just because you have great craft beer doesn’t mean people can’t appreciate $1 Blatz and $2 mystery shots.
You could knock this place for a cutesy name and concept -- at this "beer cafe" you get your beers not from a bartender but a “beerista." But nomenclature aside, Beermiscuous is different than any other place in Chicago and a valuable addition to the craft beer ecosystem, with cooler upon cooler of alphabetized bottles you can take home in a mix-and-match six pack or drink right there on the premises for an upcharge. If you're more a draft devotee, the dozen-strong taplist always makes for some interesting pints or flights. The free wi-fi befits the atmosphere, which really does skew a little more cafe than bar, so if you have a work-from-home gig and feel like you can be productive with a beer or two in you, it's also an underrated spot to get some work done. No food beyond some light snacks (and free pretzels!) though, so you'll have to order that lunch in.
Hailing from Northern CA, Lagunitas' Chicago-based brewery and taproom brings all the goods, and then some. It's the biggest brewery in Chicago (Goose Island is second!), offering tastings, events, and seasonal specials.
Since 1978, this OG dive in the Loop has been offering killer brews and burgers. Decorated in the style of a classic European pub, Monk's is a warm spot favored by locals and visitors alike and their extensive selection of brews is sure to impress even the snobbiest of beer connoisseurs.
This super-elegant spot inside The Langham has one of the absolute best views right in the heart of Chicago -- courtesy of those floor-to-ceiling windows -- and has enough curated cocktails (our favorites are the Trinidad James, London Dove, and Beet It) and fried pinwheel pasta, the seriously addicting bar, to make enjoying the skyline for hours totally doable. Oh, and there's also a live harpist, a killer Mediterranean menu, and chicken wings that are on fire (literally!).
This North Center sports bar has been a neighborhood staple for years. With over 70 craft beers available for your imbibing pleasure, rest assured the folks at Grace & Leavitt have got you covered when it comes to happy hour. Their seven days a week, all day drink specials can't be beat.
The heavy wooded exterior of this Lakeview bar belies a crazy fun and festive karaoke hotspot and dive. Since 1970, Friar Tuck has been serving up cheap beer, free popcorn, and wild nights. Stop by for all of the above, plus possible impromptu dance parties.
Nothing starts the day like a PBR and shot of that whiskey you used to steal from your old man’s liquor cabinet before you knew any better. Call it an eye opener. Or just relax in the chilled-out back patio with a $10 pizza, your call.
Piled high with juicy beef, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle and special sauce, Five Guys insanely tasty burgers are worth the treat.
Because of its location in the Loop, 312 Chicago has become popular for pre-show meals. The contemporary Italian food is offered in seasonal menus and provides options for all dietary restrictions and preferences.
With flags and world maps decking the walls, Bucktown's The Map Room is a self-described "traveler's tavern." Appropriately so, it's a drinking destination for any beer geek passing through Chicago. Since opening in 1992, the bar has struck up deep ties in the brewing community, and the rare and varied brews on its insanely long beer list are proof of its status as a beer mecca. The Map Room takes tastings to the next level with "Beer School," a 20-plus year tradition hosted by various brewmasters that will teach you everything you need to know about beer.
Paddy Long's has acquired numerous varieties of Bourbon County Stout for your barrel-aged beer drinking pleasure (which has led to your pleasing barrel shape), tapping this year and last year's original vintages along with variants like vanilla, coffee, and the recently released cherry rye.
Open since 1933, this Lincoln Park bar touts itself as one of the oldest on the Northside. They've updated their digs since then, though, and installed a flat screen for game day, pool tables, and a juke box. This spot is fun, plain and simple, and their nightly happy hour specials can't be beat.
A massive new 220-seat contempo-Italian resto laid out in the posh new JW Marriott, TF's helmed by Todd Stein (of last year's celebrated also-contempo-Italian hotel resto Cibo Matto), and's centered around an 80-seat, 360 degree marble 'n wood bar flanked by classically tinged modern artwork, caramel colored banquettes, and library-style shelves lined with old books (so, like, gen 1 Kindles? Gross!).
Looking for a way to cure the Monday blues? Check out Evil Olive for their reputable Monday night "Porn and Chicken" party. Think half-naked women on the bartop, lots of dancing, and of course good ol' fried chicken. What an amazing way to kick off the work week.
At this friendly, uptown bar, art-lined walls greet a lively hometown crowd with bar eats and cheap drinks.
Energetic vibe? Check. Dueling pianos playing danceable beats? Yup. Plastic buckets overflowing with neon-hued sharable cocktails? You betcha’.
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.
“Uncle” Lou Mitchell started the family business in 1923, and it's been going ever since. in 1958 they started handing out free donut holes to everyone and boxes of Milk Dudes to the ladies -- they're still doing it today.
This retail shop offers cheese, bread and wine (duh), but also serves pressed sandwiches, salad, and craft brews inside a small cafe within the store. Pastoral's full service resto, Appellation is also located inside the shop. A quaint 75-seater doling out swoon-worthy farm fresh fare , Appellation is a cozy neighborhood bistro worth visiting.
Eataly Chicago is the newest hub from Mario Batali. Head to any of his food shops for authentic grub, or take some classes!
The Lincoln Park outpost of this nationwide grocery store fave has all the goods you want on lock, plus free samples galore and beer, wine and spirits.
With locations all across the Chicago area, Mariano's is much more than a solid spot to pick up all the groceries you need. It's a massive specialty store featuring thousands of unique items, as well as prepared food, a flower shop, grilling station, oyster and sushi bars, and more.