15 Bars With Things To Do Besides Drink
photo credit: Christina Slaton
When you want to go out drinking but don’t feel like dancing or explaining your side of the divorce again, it’s nice to go to a bar that has activities to entertain you. We put together a list of the bars that go above and beyond - these places have more than just darts and a pool table, because every other block has a dive with at least one of those. Get a group of friends together and head to one of these spots to bowl, curl, or do whatever the verb for bocce is.
As a kid, the most exciting hotel you could stay in was one with a game room, even if that just meant a carpeted area in the basement with Ms. Pac-Man and a broken claw machine. The Chicago Athletic Association is a hotel in a giant old building across the street from Millennium Park, and its Game Room is much nicer than the mildewy ones of our childhoods. There’s a huge bocce court with stadium seating, two pool tables, a shuffleboard table, and foosball, not to mention excellent drinking food like footlong Chicago dogs and tot-chos.
Royal Palms is like a photogenic cruise ship complete with tropical drinks and 11 full-size shuffleboard courts. The shuffleboard is the main attraction here, but there’s also a giant Connect 4, ring toss, and a photo booth with props that you can take advantage of without having to pay to attend someone’s wedding. The winner-stays-on shuffleboard court on the roof is set up like a pool deck, and they even have complimentary sunscreen - probably because they know you’re going to want to spend all afternoon up there.
We’d come to The Pink Squirrel for the fun supper club cocktails like Rob Roys and Harvey Wallbangers alone. But it’s also got two duckpin bowling lanes, which make for a nice change of pace from the more party-forward bars on this strip of Milwaukee. When you throw a strike with a brandy Old Fashioned in your hand, you’ll feel like the ultimate Midwesterner - now all you need is an Urlacher jersey and the number of a good basement waterproofer.
We pretty much come to Park + Field exclusively for their killer patio, because a few hours drinking by their fire pits is one of the best ways to spend a warm night. The bar is styled after an old-school gymnasium, decorated with vintage sports paraphernalia like scoreboards, rackets, and lockers, along with bocce courts and bags outside. The best part is there’s no coach here to make you run laps for daring to disrespect the sanctity of P.E. class.
During the warmer months, Kaiser Tiger has bocce ball and ping pong in its beer garden, which would be enough to land it a place on this list - but when winter hits, they keep the games going and put up curling rinks. Just make sure you play before eating “The Bomb” - five pounds of sausage wrapped in a brown sugar bacon weave - otherwise you’ll need a zamboni to push you off the ice.
Begyle’s taproom is the start of Malt Row, a two-mile stretch of eight breweries and distilleries on the North Side. It’s an admirable Saturday project to try to tackle them all, but you might get held up at Begyle because they have two sets of indoor bags boards and three skee-ball machines. Imagine a bell curve with “number of beers ingested” on one axis and “skee-ball skills” on the other, and you’ll start to see why it’s hard to tear yourself away after a few pints of Crash Landed.
We love hanging at Nighthawk. They’re open from 7am to 2am, so it’s a great place to turn drinking into an all-day affair. But that’s usually reserved for weekends, or days when you call your boss and rasp your way out of work. If you’re just going for a few casual drinks, make it one of the nights they host a Bob Ross paint-along, where you can turn your drunken mistakes into happy accidents. Not the mistakes you make after leaving the bar, though. You’ll have to live with those.
Six days out of the week, Big Joe’s is just a typical Chicago corner bar. There might be a few people sharing pitchers of cheap beer, but you won’t have any issue getting on the pool table or dartboards. On Friday nights, though, it’s as packed as a River North club giving away free Jell-O shots, because that’s when Big Joe’s hosts their legendary turtle races. Every drink you buy earns you a chance to claim a turtle champion, and if your turtle wins (or comes in last) you win a prize. The best part is how the gradual turn from “Why am I here?” to “This is the most fun I’ve ever had” is shared by a room full of strangers over the course of the night.
If you’re at Slippery Slope, chances are you’re there to dance. But if you haven’t gotten corrective surgery to replace your second left foot yet, they’ve also got skee-ball. Just plan on going on a Monday, when skee-ball is free - because we’ve heard it’s an expensive surgery.
We’re not suggesting you head to Sluggers in most circumstances, unless you’re super into sticky floors and dueling pianos - but it is the only bar in the city with batting cages. It gets mobbed during Cubs season because it’s right across the street from Wrigley, so to really work on your swing, you should come during the offseason. If you’re dragged here by your friends but you’re afraid of catching a fastball to the head, they’ve also got air hockey, pop-a-shot, and other games where you don’t need to wear a helmet.
Technically, Fireside is more of a bowling alley with a bar, but the bar here is closely woven into the divey DNA of the place. You can come here to drink and play pool as a pregame for other Logan bars, but just know that you’ll probably have a Pavlovian reaction to the sound of the pins and smell of the shoes and get lured into playing a game. If there’s one thing we know about bowling legend Ivan “Ten-Pin” Pavlov, it’s that he couldn’t keep himself away from the lanes.
The Flat Iron is much louder and grungier than a lot of the fancy cocktail bars you’ll find near this Wicker Park intersection, so you shouldn’t come in expecting great drinks or stunning hospitality. It’s just a 4am bar that’s usually playing hardcore music, with walls covered in murals from local Chicago artists. But along with the typical pool and darts, they have skee-ball, a shuffleboard table, and Big Buck Hunter.
Heading to Saint Lou’s for their meat-and-three cafeteria-inspired food is a solid plan, but going there for the back patio is foolproof. It always feels like a party out back, and a big part of the appeal is the bocce court. They have an outdoor bar too, so you don’t have to venture too far away if you’re worried about losing your spot on the court.
There are a ton of barcades in Chicago, but if you’re looking for the widest game selection, Emporium’s Logan Square location is your best bet. They have arcade games, pinball, pool, air hockey, bubble hockey, foosball, skee-ball, Alan Ball, and shuffleboard. Alright, Alan Ball wrote American Beauty and Six Feet Under - we just wanted to make sure you hadn’t zoned out during that long list of activities. The only downside here is that you have to buy tokens to play the games. It might seem like a fun throwback to childhood at first, until you’re at a coffee shop the next day and find a pocketful of unused tokens that you’d much rather be able to spend on an espresso.
A lot of the bars in this guide have lawn games that are basically an excuse for reformed jocks to show off their skills. But what about the unathletic among us, whose hand-eye coordination levels have been clinically diagnosed as “iffy at best”? That’s where the board games at Guthrie’s come in. They have everything here from Monopoly to Settlers Of Catan, and with their long beer list you can stake out a comfortable spot in the corner, sharpen your mind, and plan your eventual world domination.