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The Bar Greatest Hits List: The 25 Best Bars In Chicago

Our guide to the 25 quintessential bars that make Chicago what it is.
The Bar Greatest Hits List: The 25 Best Bars In Chicago image

photo credit: Kim Kovacik

New bars open all the time in Chicago—some Al Capone-themed bar or Australian beer garden probably just opened around the corner from wherever you’re currently located. But there’s no better place to drink than a classic.

So we compiled a list of our favorites—the places we find ourselves returning to over and again. Some are older than others, but they’re all standbys that we can rely on for a number of different occasions. They are the places that make this city great. In other words: the Greatest Hits.

If you live in Chicago, you should drink at them all. If you’re visiting, check out as many as you can. Some spots are cocktail bars, some are dives, others have live music, and then there are a few that fall somewhere in between, but all of them are essential to Chicago.

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THE SPOTS

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Lincoln Park

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The Blues Brothers took place in Chicago for a reason, and it’s because the blues culture of this city is alive and well. Just head to a place like Kingston Mines, where you can catch a live show Thursday through Saturday starting in the evening until they close at 4:00am (5:00am on Saturday). The longtime bar has been in a few different spots over the years, but it’s current Lincoln Park location has been the same for over 30 years.


photo credit: Sammy Faze Photography

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Each visit to Kumiko feels like peaking inside of a Rolex. Every detail of this West Loop spot is crucial to having a relaxed, upscale bar experience—the pristine space that looks like the home of someone who wrote Minimalism 101, the calm way the staff effortlessly describes complex flavor profiles, and physical menus that look like art zines. This thoughtfulness carries over to their food and drink, with creative cocktails like a bold-yet-light Old Fashioned with green tea, and a crispy tonkatsu sando with cloudlike milk bread. Everything inside its intimate candle-lit interior flows so smoothly, they should have “guaranteed to be a great time” artfully etched in calligraphy on the menu.


Maria’s may not have always been formally called Maria’s, but everyone who frequents the Bridgeport bar knows that Maria Marszewski has long been the driving force behind this slashie (liquor store and bar combo). When her kids took over in 2010, they gave the place a facelift and made “Maria’s” the official name. But it’s still the same friendly neighborhood place to post up for a quality selection of beers. You can even get food now from the attached Kimski, which means there’s really no reason to ever leave.


Nine Bar is special. Not only because it’s Chinatown’s first cocktail bar, but also because this speakeasy (which is hidden in the back of Moon Palace Express) has fantastic Asian-inspired cocktails and delicious bar food. The dark space is cozy, with neon lights that make it feel like you warped into the world of Tron. Both the drink and food menus are short but full of hits, with things like a smoky rye cocktail with Chinese five spice and the crispy mapo hot fries. This place is great on a low-key weeknight for hanging out at the bar, or chilling on one of their comfy couches. But if you’re looking for a more energetic atmosphere, swing by during one of the weekend DJ sets playing everything from house to hip-hop.


Best Intentions originally closed in 2020, but in 2023 this divey Logan Square cocktail bar quietly reopened by simply writing “we back” on a teeny note posted outside their building. Since then, no barstool has stayed empty for long, and the fun space full of knickknacks is always packed with people happy to stand while funk and soul music blasts. Unlike most dives, the cocktails are fantastic, while still keeping dive bar prices (around $10). Plus, they have a nice secluded patio and their $6 smashburger is the ideal bar snack—you can even get a baker’s dozen for $72.


The best bar in Wrigleyville really only has one thing in common with the rest of the neighborhood, and that’s the ivy climbing its walls. There’s a large selection of craft beer, and while board games are fairly common at bars in the city, Guthrie’s is probably the only place where every table is halfway through settling Catan or starting in on a do-or-die round of Bananagrams. Add in a screened back porch and a BYOF policy, and this is the perfect place for a group hang or first date.


Though Osito’s Tap technically isn't hidden (it has a discreet side street entrance) it’s fun to treat this Little Village bar like a speakeasy. Do this by walking through its second entrance, which is just past the booze aisles of the liquor store it’s attached to, Moreno's. There's a sense of camaraderie happening inside the charming, old brick interior. Friends are packed into leather booths, locals are grabbing seats at the bar, and there will probably be a large group taking advantage of Happy Hour. They have a good draft beer selection as well as fantastic cocktails, from classic margaritas to originals like El Oscuro: a smoky Old Fashioned with orange and chocolate bitters, and an ancho chile reduction. And their short food menu has great Mexican dishes like mushroom-stuffed molotes. 


No, this isn’t where we go to complain about parking or potholes—The Alderman is a great cocktail bar inside of Pilsen Yards. And even though it’s not particularly hidden (it's clearly labeled with a neon sign) it still feels like the ideal speakeasy. The inside is dark and cozy, and once you’re settled in (listening to their hip-hop playlist and sipping on a cocktail) you will immediately forget about your expired city sticker. The drinks are fantastic, with a rotating selection of creative concoctions like the Sichuan Panda made with baijiu, sesame oil, and peppercorn. Plus, the friendly bartenders will commiserate with you about your permit fees and take a shot of tequila with you at closing time.


Whether you’re just grabbing a beer after a show at Cafe Mustache or you’ve got your all-night dancing shoes on, a night out on this strip of Milwaukee will probably include a stop at Cole’s. It’s unpretentious and occasionally sweaty, serves reasonably priced drinks, and attracts people from across the city. There’s a weekly comedy open mic in the back, and bands often come through for free shows. If you’re looking to see a band or comic who will eventually blow up and leave Chicago behind for some unthinkable reason, there’s a good chance you can do it at Cole’s.


Big Chicks is as much a neighborhood staple as it is a welcome alternative to some of the more sceney LGBTQ+ spots in the city. This upbeat local watering hole is fun for a casual hang with friends over drinks, but their wide variety of food options also makes it a great place to grab a full meal. Plus, the fact that it’s owned by the same folks as Tweet next door means the bar food is much better than most of the other places serving you well drinks in plastic cups.


A longtime Hyde Park bar that feels like it’s somehow simultaneously occupying the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. You might forget it’s the 21st century at all in here—or you would, if not for the large, impressive mural of President Obama on the wall. There’s sort of a nautical theme at The Cove, in the same way a middle school dance might celebrate “A Night Under The Sea.” For the most part, it’s just a classic dive with a cool layout that’s filled with dedicated drinkers of all ages.


Delilah’s is one of the more eclectic bars in the city, and it shows in everything they do. Extensive whiskey list over 500 kinds deep? Check. More than 200 different beers? Yup. Do the walls feature a rotation of different local artists? Of course. Does the whole place have a sort of rock and roll feel? Yes, but there are also DJs on hand playing punk rock, metal, reggae, R&B, or even country music any given day of the week. The whole dynamic gives Delilah’s a lot of character, which is especially meaningful for a bar in Lincoln Park.


Estereo is our favorite place to drink when the sun's out. The open garage door walls, the panting dogs, the throwback Latin vinyl on the record player—everything combines to create the perfect setting for drinking refreshing cocktails made with spirits like pisco, singani, and cachaça. At night it’s even more of a party, with a line out the door and live DJ sets on the weekends.


Charlie Chaplin, Frank Sinatra, and Al Capone are just a few of the big names who have hung out at this classic jazz club over the 100 years it’s been open. Translation—The Green Mill has seen some sh*t, and it’s still one of the best places to catch live jazz music every day of the week. Rumor has it there’s a crazy set of underground tunnels beneath the place where your wildest gangster dreams took place, which is fun to think about even if they won’t give you a tour.


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Hopleaf embodies everything that’s good about the term gastropub—it’s a bar with an exceptional beer selection and a food menu that goes above and beyond typical bar food. The mussels and Belgian-style frites rightfully get the most attention here, but the entire menu is worth your time. Hang out in the front rooms to spend time with their draft list, the upstairs bar to explore their extensive list of bottles and cans, or make your way to the back room and patio if you’re looking to have a sit-down meal.


One of the standouts in a neighborhood full of great LGBTQ+ bars, Sidetrack is a party all week long with show tune sing-alongs, drag shows, and giant TV screens that play music videos according to the night’s theme. It’s usually packed here, but even on its clubbiest nights there’s no cover, which is a rare gift. If you’re not feeling the energy in a certain room, take one of the deceptively strong frozen cocktails for a walk upstairs and a change of scenery.


Whirlaway is one of the best examples of a true Chicago neighborhood bar. The owner, Maria, is usually bartending and is an integral part of the experience here. Once you’ve been here a few times, you become a familiar face and are then treated as such. If there’s a Cubs game on, she’ll probably talk to you about baseball, and when you say the Marlins are your favorite team she’ll grab the attention of the regular at the end of the bar who’s from Miami, and just like that, you’ve got a new drinking buddy—and an understanding of what makes this place special.


The city of Chicago outlawed smoking in bars and restaurants back in 2008. And Richard’s Bar gives absolutely zero f*cks—you will smell like you shot a 1966 Marlboro commercial when you walk out of here. Combine that with the classic Old Style sign out front, neon lights inside, cheap beers, and a jukebox filled with plenty of classics, and you’ll immediately see why this is one of the great dive bars in town.


There are plenty of places to dance in Chicago, and this corner of Logan Square houses a lot of them. Slippery Slope is a great dance bar, but what separates it from the pack is The Heavy Feather, the upstairs bar that’s styled to look like a ’70s-era fern bar. The wood trim and gold accents are a great counter to the red glow of the first floor, and it’s perfect for slowing things down if you’re tired of dancing.


Character is not something Old Town Ale House is short on. At its core, Old Town Ale House is a funky dive bar and historic hangout full of locals and comedians because of its location near Second City. The longtime owner also treats it as his own art studio, which includes pictures of Vladimir Putin as a ballerina and Kim Jong Un and Dennis Rodman together on the wall. It’s the total opposite of everything else you’ll find near it on Wells St., which makes Old Town Ale House the perfect escape for a lowkey couple of drinks.


Despite opening in 2021, this Andersonville bar seems like a classic neighborhood spot that’s been around since Mayor Daley Sr. was in office. Full of disco lights and playing jams like No Diggity, it’s a welcoming, fun place to hang out and drink great cocktails. You won’t find gimmicky ingredients like moon water, but their elevated takes on classics, like an Old Fashioned with vanilla bark, will make you wish that every bar made them that way. And if you want a more chill environment, they also have a quiet sidewalk patio often full of people with their dogs.


From the street, the brick wall, plain green sign, and metal bars on the tiny window out front don’t make Skylark look like an appealing place. And inside is equally as uneventful as far as decorations go, mainly because there aren’t any. But that’s all part of the charm at this Pilsen dive bar, and simplicity is what makes it so great. It’s always lively, the drinks are cheap, and bar food like burgers and tater tots are always great. Just make sure to bring cash because it’s all they accept.


Like oysters or puppies, great things come in small packages. And the same can be said for The Matchbox, one of the tiniest bars in town. What The Matchbox doesn’t have in space it makes up for in personality. You’ll literally struggle to get past other people sitting at the bar to get an open seat, but the friendly atmosphere will make you feel right at home. This is the kind of place where bartenders know the regulars, but they’ll be equally as friendly to any newcomers who walk in the door. Come with one other person to kick it over classic cocktails and conversation.


Sportman’s Club is what happens when an old-school dive bar meets new-age bartenders who know how to do cool things. The small and skinny space in Ukranian Village had been a local spot for a long-time, but new ownership revamped the place just enough while preserving the old-school atmosphere. You can grab a Hamm's for $3 or try one of the more interesting cocktails that rotate daily for about $10. Either way, it’s a great lowkey spot to sit and hang, and if it’s nice outside, you’ll definitely want to hit their backyard that feels like hanging at someone’s house.


Even though the hype behind The Violet Hour (and the backlash over its strict rules about what you can wear and what drinks you can order) isn’t as strong as it once was, the drinks here are still really damn good. Good enough that you should still seek out the entrance hidden behind an ever-changing mural in Wicker Park. From the way they seat you like you’re at a restaurant to the upscale bar snacks—expect foie gras and tartare—the experience here is all about curation, and they’ve created the right setting to enjoy some of the best seasonal cocktails you’ve ever had. It’s not an everyday situation, but it’s a great spot for the right occasion.


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