Food & Drink

Where to Score Free Food in Chicago

Published On 02/19/2016 Published On 02/19/2016
Lagunitas Taproom | Sean Cooley/Thrillist

Free popcorn & bar snacks

Cody’s Public House (address and info)

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.

Bernard’s Bar at the Waldorf Astoria (address and info)

Gold Coast
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.

Quenchers Saloon (address and info)

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.

Beermiscuous (address and info)

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.

Lagunitas TapRoom (address and info)

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 (address and info)

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.

The Lounge at Travelle (address and info)

Near North
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.

Grace and Leavitt Fire Escape (address and info)

North Center
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.

Friar Tuck (address and info)

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 (address and info)

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.

Five Guys (address and info)

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.

Courtesy of Map Room

Free appetizers

312 Chicago (address and info)

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.

Map Room (address and info)

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.

Paddy Long’s (address and info)

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.

The Florentine

Free pizza & chicken

The Burwood Tap (address and info)

Lincoln Park
Free wings on weeknights. Just beware the likelihood of hungry DePaul students. Like, a lot of them.

The Florentine (address and info)

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

Porn and Chicken Dance Party at Evil Olive (address and info)

Wicker Park
Free chicken while supplies last on Monday nights -- if you can handle porn on the big screen and near-porn on the dance floor.

Big Chicks

Free buffets

Big Chicks (address and info)

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.

Howl at the Moon (address and info)

River North
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.


Free sweets

Scofflaw (address and info)

Logan Square
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.

Lou Mitchell’s (address and info)

West Loop
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.

Eataly Chicago

Free samples

Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine (address and info)

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 (address and info)

River North
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?

Trader Joe’s (address and info)

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!

Mariano’s (address and info)

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.

Whole Foods (address and info)

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

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1. Cody's Public House 1658 W Barry Ave, Chicago, IL 60657

Thing to note: though it may look like it from the outside, and even when you step inside, Cody’s is not your average dive bar. Yes, bottles of Old Style and cans of Schlitz (among other brews) are dirt cheap, and yes you’ll pay for them in cash only in between rounds in the dart room. Those pretzel sticks at the bar, yes, they’re free. And sure, bring your dog, but also -- and here’s where it leaves “average” territory -- bring your own brats or burger patties, because there are two grills out back for patrons to use between rounds of bocce.

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2. Bernard's Bar 11 E Walton St, Chicago, IL 60611

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.

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3. Quenchers Saloon 2401 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

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.

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4. Beermiscuous 2812 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60657

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.

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5. Lagunitas Brewing Company 1843 S Washtenaw Ave, Chicago, IL 60608

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.

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6. Monk's Pub 205 W Lake St, Chicago, IL 60606

Since 1978, Monk's Pub has been pouring an extensive, international selection of craft brews and a dozen different juicy burgers from its post in the Loop. Decorated in the style of a classic European pub -- accented by antiques like kerosene lanterns, vintage books, and spent wooden barrels -- Monk's is a warm, neighborhood joint with charm, character, and a chili-beer cheese cheeseburger worth writing home about.

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7. Travelle 330 N Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

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!).

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8. Grace & Leavitt Fire Escape 2157 W Grace St, Chicago, IL 60618

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.

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9. Friar Tuck 3010 N Broadway St, Chicago, IL 60657

The wooden barrel exterior of Friar Tuck belies a neon-lit, bonafide dive bar with a brick-enclosed fireplace, a smattering of randomly placed dart boards, and a pay phone. This should give you an idea of the type of establishment you’ve sauntered into, but if it doesn’t, the bar -- born in 1970 and with few, if any renovations since -- serves pitchers of your favorite cheap domestics, baskets of popcorn (for free!), and hosts a karaoke night that will keep you entertained into the wee hours of the morning. And if you’re wondering what that inflatable sheep is doing there, ask the bartender… and be prepared to take a shot of their choosing from the ruminant’s hind quarters.

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10. Bucktown Pub 1658 W Cortland Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

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.

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11. Five Guys 2140 N Clybourn Ave, Chicago, IL 60614

Piled high with juicy beef, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle and special sauce, Five Guys insanely tasty burgers are worth the treat.

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12. 312 Chicago 136 N LaSalle St, Chicago, IL 60602

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.

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13. The Map Room 1949 N Hoyne Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

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.

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14. Paddy Long's 1028 W Diversey, Chicago, IL 60614

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.

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15. Burwood Tap 724 W Wrightwood Ave, Chicago, IL 60614

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.

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16. The Florentine 208 S LaSalle St, Chicago, IL 60603

The Loop’s JW Marriott is home to contemporary Italian concept The Florentine, a restaurant dedicated to feeding the city’s bustling financial district seven days a week. The elegant restaurant is located atop a dramatic staircase ascending from the hotel lobby, and is best for power lunches, business dinners, or post-work drop-ins. Its Loop locale gives it an edge during the busy lunch hour, where the spacious dining room fills up fast with professionals enjoying paninis (with a side of fries) and half portions of pasta (so you’re less inclined to take a midday nap). And for that post-work (or midday, if that’s your thing) drink, the large, sleek bar and extensive beverage list is there to suit your needs.

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17. Evil Olive 1551 W Division St, Chicago, IL 60622

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.

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18. Big Chicks 5024 N Sheridan Rd, Chicago, IL 60640

At this friendly, uptown bar, art-lined walls greet a lively hometown crowd with bar eats and cheap drinks.

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19. Howl at the Moon 26 W Hubbard St, Chicago, IL 60654

Energetic vibe? Check. Dueling pianos playing danceable beats? Yup. Plastic buckets overflowing with neon-hued sharable cocktails? You betcha’.

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20. Scofflaw 3201 W Armitage Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

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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21. Lou Mitchell's 565 W Jackson Blvd, Chicago, IL 60661

“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.

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22. Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread and Wine 5212 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60640

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.

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23. Eataly 43 E Ohio St, Chicago, IL 60611

Eataly Chicago is the newest hub from Mario Batali. Head to any of his food shops for authentic grub, or take some classes!

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24. Trader Joe's 1840 N Clybourn Ave, Chicago, IL 60614

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.

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25. Mariano's Fresh Market 1800 W Lawrence Ave, Chicago, IL 60640

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.

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26. Whole Foods Market 1550 N Kingsbury St, Chicago, IL 60642

The Lincoln Park outpost of Whole Foods in Chicago offers plenty of organic grub, hosts cooking classes and community events, and (bonus points!) sometimes offers free samples.