Whether you’re sober, the designated driver, or signed up for a non-refundable early workout class, you’ve decided to take a break from alcohol. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time during a night out, though. From spots with arcade games or shuffleboard, to places with non-alcoholic drinks worth ordering, here are 14 great bars to check out when you’re not drinking.
The Pink Squirrel’s theme is “Midwestern culture,” but unlike your uncle from Wisconsin whose hobbies are watching the Packers and drinking in the garage, this place isn’t boring. For example, there’s duckpin bowling and events like trivia night. Plus, this place has a drink menu that includes non-alcoholic versions of cocktails like Grasshoppers, along with milkshakes. And in case you don’t feel like standing all night watching people bowl, this place has plenty of diner-style booths that make it easy to get a seat. Another thing that’s easy? Beating drunk people at bowling.
If you still have unpleasant memories of spring break and the terrible, sugary cocktails at Senor Frog’s, you might not be excited about going to a tiki bar. And Lost Lake in Logan Square is full-blown tiki - including bamboo chairs, floral wallpaper, and a long menu of not-too-sweet tropical drinks. But the nice thing is that they all usually have about 78 ingredients besides alcohol, so you get rid of the booze and they still taste good, and (most importantly) come in their fun-shaped glasses. Hopefully, a trip here will help you move on from that terrible vacation once and for all.
Royal Palms in Wicker Park is huge and has a total of 11 shuffleboard courts. Basically hanging out here is a little like being on a cruise ship, but with probably fewer drunk people. In other words, it’s great for planning a get-together where not everyone will be drinking alcohol. There are also a bunch of food trucks, a giant Connect Four, and games like ring toss. So there’s enough going on that non-drinkers who don’t want to play shuffleboard will still be able to have a good time with the group.
When you want to listen to some music and be surrounded by a crowd, go to the Bassment in River North. This club has live jazz, DJs (sometimes both on the same night), and plenty of space to dance. But more importantly, there are also big leather chairs and couches when being bumped into by people starts to annoy you - which can happen whether you’re sober or not.
We’re big fans of the non-alcoholic drinks at this small bar in Logan Square. And unlike most of the dive bars common in the neighborhood, Young American has plenty of windows, neon lights, and is bright enough that even the really drunk people can see who they’re talking to. You’ll find tasty and interesting N.A. cocktails like the #7, made with oat milk, strawberry, lemon, and mint. Plus, you have the option to add a “restorative shot” with turmeric, ginger, and electrolytes. Or CBD. Or, for that matter, booze. If you want turmeric, CBD, and whiskey in your oat milk, don’t let us stop you.
You can be completely sober at Beatnik in West Town and be entertained solely by the over-the-top atmosphere. You’ll be surrounded by a jungle of tropical plants, sitting on silk cushions or antique furniture from Bali, with a DJ playing the whole time. It’s a fun place just to hang out, but it also has some interesting alcohol-free cocktails - like the slightly spicy El Nino, made with fresnos, mint-infused agave, grapefruit, and lime. Overall, this place is perfect for people-watching, eating light bites, and pretending you’re in a Wes Anderson movie.
When you’re not drinking, you’re probably not going someplace just for non-alcoholic drinks, which usually aren’t very memorable. You’re there to spend time with friends, and leave when the drinkers start talking loudly and repeating themselves. But going to Kumiko is different. This upscale bar in the West Loop has an entire “spirit-free program” with N.A. cocktails that are delicious enough to make them destination-worthy. There’s a long list of options, complete with descriptions like “herbaceous, soft and delicate” (that’s the “Lucid Dreamer,” not a sexy gardener’s hands) to help you pair them with the food menu.
The Green Mill in Uptown is a jazz club that’s been around for over 100 years. Which, coincidentally, is how long your dry January is starting to feel. To break up the monotony until you can get back to your regularly scheduled drinking program, come here. This place plays live music every night of the week and feels very laid-back and relaxed. Just like you’ll be on February 1st.
Like The Green Mill, Kingston Mines has live music seven nights a week. But in this case, it’s the blues, which you no longer have since you stopped waking up hungover before work every day. But as it gets later, this place can definitely end up feeling like a party, especially since it’s open until 3:30am. Side note: staying out that late before going to the office will probably still make you feel like trash, drinking or not.
Unlike most of the bars in River North, Good Measure isn’t club-like. It’s a kind-of-divey place with punk music and it doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the neighborhood. But this place is still fun and it feels like the kind of spot you can enjoy even if you’re not getting f*cked up. It also has a great food menu, with dishes ranging from fried chicken to a cheeseburger with foie gras-sauteed onions. Come here after work and before bailing on your coworker’s birthday party at the Underground.
There are three Emporiums in Chicago, and there’s so much going on at the one in Logan Square that drinking is just a distraction. Along with arcade games, they also have pinball, pool, air hockey, foosball, skeeball, and shuffleboard. Plus, there’s also a dancefloor, just in case you’re the kind of non-drinker who doesn’t need any liquid courage to ironically do the Sprinkler.
If your dry January experiment is so successful that it extends through the summer, you’ll want to hit up Saint Lou’s. The backyard is a perfect place to spend time when it’s nice out: there’s bocce ball, a covered area with picnic benches, round tables on mulch, and some stadium seating benches. All of this combined with housemade lemonade, floats, and the upscale cafeteria-style food (like mac and cheese) make it like being at your company picnic, but with less of a chance of ending up talking to HR afterward.
OK - so you were going to St. Lou’s, but now your friends want to go Moneygun, the old-school bar next door. That’s fine because you can just entertain yourself with arcade games like Pac-Man and Tetris. This place has talented bartenders who are always more than happy to make you something without booze, and a long menu of classic cocktails (like White Russians and Manhattans) for the drinkers.
Park and Field is an outdoor institution - it has a gigantic patio with TVs, multiple fire pits (where you can make s’mores), bocce, and bags. If you end up inside for some reason, the space is decorated like an old-timey gymnasium. In other words, there’s a 99% chance that at some point you will end up at a group function here, and if you’re not drinking, almost a 0% chance of you doing something embarrassing. Unless, of course, you try using the vintage pommel horses.