CHIGuide

10 Great Hidden Bars & Speakeasies In Chicago

Because drinking "in secret" still has its thrills.
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photo credit: The Drifter

Prohibition has (thankfully) been extinct since 1933, but for some reason, this town can’t get enough of speakeasies. Maybe it’s the charm of pretending like you’re living in a bygone era. Or maybe it’s the air of exclusivity that comes with knowing about a place others don’t. Whatever the case, there’s something genuinely fun about checking out a secret spot, and that’s why we made this list. From a bar that moonlights as a barbershop, to more low-key spots that hide in plain sight, here are some great hidden bars in Chicago.

THE SPOTS

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Wicker Park

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Wicker Park is home to a handful of record stores—like Dorian’s. But what sets this tiny shop apart from the others is that it’s actually a front for a great cocktail bar and performance venue. Through a door at the back of its listening room is a lounge area with tables, comfy booths, and a small stage. And while they do have snacks like cheese plates and pretzels, you’re here for drinks (the Lonesome Cowboy is a refreshing rye cocktail with hints of bell pepper) and music. The performances range from Afro-Cuban groups, jazz trios, and even DJs—just make sure to come early if you want to actually grab a seat.


Hidden behind Moon Palace Express’ “kitchen door'' is Chinatown’s first speakeasy and cocktail bar, Nine Bar. And while that in itself is an accomplishment, this Tron-esque, neon-lit cocktail bar stands out because of its fantastic Asian-inspired food and drink menu. The cocktails are fun takes on classics like an Old Fashioned with Chinese five spice and the crispy mapo hot fries are a must-order snack. Nine Bar is cozy without feeling cramped, and weeknights are perfect for a lowkey hang on one of the comfy couches. For something more upbeat, swing by during the more energetic weekend DJ sets.


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Inside Pilsen Yards you’ll find lots of group dinners and a quizzical neon sign above a door that says “The Alderman.” And while that door doesn’t lead to a government official that’ll hear all of your complaints about street parking, it does lead to an excellent cocktail bar. The interior is dark and intimate with only 16 seats, and though you definitely can waltz on in, we recommend placing a reservation. All of the drinks here are fantastic, with a rotating selection of cocktails like the slightly savory Sichuan Panda made with baijiu, sesame oil, and peppercorn, or the Blind Luck with gin and chai vermouth.


Even if you’ve never been, chances are you’ve already heard about Wicker Park’s The Violet Hour. It's the oldest spot on this list, jump-started the craft cocktail culture of Chicago, and notoriously has very particular rules like “no light beer” or “don’t bring anyone here that you wouldn’t bring to your mother’s house for Sunday dinner.” Quirks and hype aside, this bar hidden behind an ever-changing mural is worth checking out. The inside is surprisingly cavernous, with flickering candles illuminating the space decorated with velvet curtains and towering armchairs. Come for celebratory drinks or an intimate date while sipping on well-crafted classics or more creative cocktails with ingredients like buttermilk, marshmallow, or kabocha squash.


Golden Teardrops is the bar underneath Logan Square Mexican spot, Lonesome Rose. And there are actually two ways to get inside: either through the restaurant (perfect for post-dinner drinks) or through a discreet alleyway entrance with a tiny, easily missable sign. Unlike its bright and airy first-floor restaurant, Golden Teardrops is dark and cozy. But luckily, there are enough string lights to prevent you from being “that person” who whips out the smartphone flashlight. It’s good for a chill catch-up with friends, but you can also let loose and give your Mariah Carey impression a test run during Wednesday night karaoke.


This Fulton Market spot functions as an actual barbershop in the day, but at night, one of the doors in the shop opens up to reveal a funky cocktail lounge. And though it’s not too big and there’s no official dancefloor, the combination of flashing lights, disco balls, and live DJ sets will encourage everyone to let loose. They have a wide selection of cocktails and highballs if you’re just stopping by for a couple of drinks, but feel free to reserve a table and order some bottles if you’re here with a larger group and want more of a club experience.


In the basement of The Green Door Tavern in River North you’ll find the bathrooms and shelves full of tchotchkes. But look closer and you’ll notice that one of those knick-knacks is actually a door knob—revealing the entrance to The Drifter. Antiques, an old American flag hanging above the bar, and short burlesque performances on a small stage complete the Prohibition era vibe. And when the curtains close, they double as a projection screen for what’s probably a Youtube playlist called “Fav Old Timey Burlesque Vids.” Adding to the mystique is the unique drink menu. Cocktail names are printed on individual tarot cards, each with fun names like Kimmy Gibbler Giblet (try saying that 10 times fast).


Unlike some of the other places with camouflaged entrances, Dorothy is hiding in plain sight. Despite having a bright red door right next to its Humboldt Park sister restaurant, Split Rail, it’s easy to miss. Once inside, this LGBTQ+ cocktail bar is surprisingly spacious, with giant comfy red couches and ‘70s-esque decor that makes it look like it was curated by a professional garage sale hunter. The drink menu is small with only eight rotating cocktails, including intriguing options like the Liquid Gold with carrot-infused rum, orange, turmeric, and oat milk. Be sure to also check their calendar for events like open mics, live music, and TV or movie screenings.


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The Aviary’s basement bar, The Office, takes exclusivity to another level: you need a key to get in. Which means this clubhousey cocktail lounge decked out in leather couches and ornately framed artwork is great if you're a celebrity dodging the paparazzi or avoiding an ex after a Fulton Market run-in. But even if you’re not trying to be incognito, they’re still worth a visit. Just give your wallet a heads up beforehand—cocktails start at $25, like a gin fizz with a creamy layer of egg white and hints of thai basil and cardamom. But if the company card “accidentally” falls into your hands—well, why not give a $400 Brooklyn made with vintage 1940s whiskey a try?


Bordel is from the same people who own Beatnik, and this cocktail bar has an equally over-the-top atmosphere. It’s a cross between a bordello and a speakeasy, so you can expect a DJ, a lot of dark velvet, whirling tassels, and a hidden entrance (don’t be fooled by the artificial greenery obscuring the door). Food options are somewhat limited to shareable plates like croquetas, charred octopus, or tuna tartare, all supplied from downstairs neighbor Mama Delia. But that’s fine because you’re mostly coming here for drinks and to catch a performance—depending on the night, you may see flamenco dancing, sword swallowing, a burlesque show, a magic act, or some combination of them all.

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