Like every effective scourge against humanity, Chicago winter leaves destruction in its wake. In this case, by decimating our city’s usable patios and rooftops - i.e. our favorite spots to day drink. So until we can sit outside for more than five minutes without looking like Jack Nicholson’s character at the end of The Shining, here are 17 non-depressing places to drink during the day.
Chicago winters might be brutal, but a tiny part of us enjoys them - and we’re not just saying this because we can’t leave our jobs to go somewhere warm for six months a year. But if we were able to escape the city, we’d head to a tropical place that feels like Estereo. It’s an all-day bar in Logan Square with lots of natural light, excellent cocktails made with things like cachaça and pisco, and plays vintage funk records. It’s basically one of the few places we can hang out, and say (with a straight face) that we don’t mind the winter.
We like day drinking at the original Parson’s because of its excellent patio. But when the wind feels like a million little frozen daggers, we’re thankful for the Lincoln Park location. The inside is huge, has a separate bar area with ping pong, and serves some great hush puppies and fried chicken. And unless you’re a masochist who drinks negroni slushies when it’s negative 15 degrees, you should also know they have hot toddies and spiked cider.
If you’re looking for a place where you can forget that you had to hold a lighter up to your car door this morning to unfreeze the handle, go to Royal Palms. It’s a huge bar in Bucktown with 11 regulation-size shuffleboard courts, rotating food trucks, and great tropical drinks. The courts are generally first come first served (groups of ten or more can reserve ahead of time), but there are plenty of other games to keep you occupied if you have to wait. Basically, it’s an easy way to pretend you’re on a cruise ship without having to worry about a listeria outbreak.
Chicagoans know how to make the best out of a bad situation - like how the Great Chicago Fire inadvertently led to the creation of our public library system, or the way we take the leftover parts of a pig and make hot dogs. Ludlow Liquors in Avondale is the same way. It has one of our favorite patios in the city, but it’s still a great spot for day drinking even when there are six inches of snow outside. The inside is dark, a little divey, and has strong enough pours to help us not care that we haven’t been able to feel our toes all day.
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to hang out in an old Masonic temple without actually having to be a freemason, go to Eris in Old Irving Park. It’s kept some of the old building details, like the exposed brick and an ominous-looking safe in the entryway that at some point probably held Mayor Daley’s secrets, and the space feels generally castle-like. Drink-wise, there’s a wide variety of ciders available, plus a few beers. And the food menu includes a lot of vegan and gluten-free dishes, in addition to the “Hodag” (a Polish sausage wrapped in bacon), which is a contender for the title of Official Day Drinking Food of Chicago.
One of our favorite winter activities is Googling flights to much warmer places. So drinking in the Map Room in Bucktown just makes sense, since this place is map-themed. (It feels like your typical old-school Chicago bar, just with lots of geographical wall decorations.) As a bonus, the bartenders are really friendly, which means they won’t judge you when you get up, slowly walk towards a map of the world, put your finger on the equator, and say, “I want to go… here.”
You don’t realize how much a 63-day stretch of sun deprivation has affected you until you find yourself in your apartment, yelling at the only house plant that’s still alive. If you’re starting to hate the person that winter has turned you into, go sit at the bar at The Delta. This place has a relaxed atmosphere, and the easygoing staff must have a back room full of SAD lamps, because they all seem to be doing just fine. Order a cocktail and a tamale or burger to go with it, and let the (right kind of) chill wash over you.
Yes, Big Star in Wicker Park is known for its giant outdoor patio, so its appearance on this guide might be a little confusing. But the inside actually exists, and it’s also very comfortable. Plus, the cocktails and Tex-Mex food will make you feel warmer by association.
The Wrigleyville location of Big Star is very similar to the one in Wicker Park, but it has two floors and is twice the size. It also has a very important menu addition in the form of “hot chips” (a.k.a. nachos). This Big Star does happen to be right across from the stadium, but conveniently, when you come here in the winter, you don’t have to worry about checking the Cubs schedule. So bring a big group, and make sure you get enough hot chips for everyone.
Hotel bars can be deeply awkward places. So unless you’re a person traveling for business or an unimaginative tourist, they’re probably not at the top of your list of day drinking spots. But Sable in the Hotel Palomar is actually pretty great if you’re looking for a low-key place to catch up with someone downtown. It’s cozy and relaxed inside - and they have good bar snacks, not to mention a long whiskey menu that you can navigate while killing time/waiting for the snow to stop. You knew you should have just worn your boots even though they totally ruin your outfit.
Day drinking here is pretty easy, since this huge West Loop spot has three full bars. It’s also fun and loud enough to make a weekday feel like Saturday night, which is something we appreciate when daylight is disappearing at 4pm. On top of that, La Josie serves great Mexican food, like enchiladas and tacos on homemade tortillas. And the extensive cocktail menu offers a variety of margaritas to help you remember why “dry January” is a bad idea.
The joys of day drinking at Kimski are two-fold. First, it’s a cool spot with light wooden decor that’s useful for when you don’t want to be surrounded by the dark wood and dim lighting you’d find in a classic Chicago bar. Second, when that brightness eventually starts to wear on you, you can just head next door to Maria’s Packaged Goods, which is a classic Chicago bar in every sense of the word. Order the poutine with kimchi gravy or the Maria’s Standard (a Polish with kimchi-kraut) from Kimski, then bring it over to Maria’s and eat there.
This brew pub is in an old warehouse, and there are two main spaces - the smaller bar area that’s dark and cozy, and the high-ceilinged space that definitely feels like it’s been refurbished. The menu is full of good beer-drinking food, like burgers, pretzels, and a bunch of fried things, and all the breads are made in-house. This place is generally great for hanging all day, with games and activities such as bags (which some people mistakenly refer to as “cornhole”).
There are a lot of breweries on this guide - mainly because they’re the only places guaranteed to have enough alcohol to get a Chicagoan through a typical winter day. Ballast Point is a brewery in the West Loop that also functions as a great sports bar, with tasty beer and above-average bar food (including a “California burrito” that’s just like a regular burrito, but with fries inside).
This is a fancy bar at the top of The Peninsula, a luxury hotel near Michigan Ave. Because of its location, it has a great view of the Magnificent Mile, which makes it perfect for out-of-town visitors who may be wondering why you live in a city where the weather report has two temperatures: the actual one, and what it “feels like” (which is always much worse). You’ll find expensive small plates like foie gras-filled bon bons and bone marrow “poppers” (a.k.a. very fancy tater tots), so come here with anyone you’re trying to impress.
Sometimes you want a bar that feels more like a cafe, so you can pretend you’re getting work done. When that’s the case, try Beermiscuous. It has a fireplace, cozy chairs, and lots of board games, so it’s a comfortable place to hang out and drink while you leave your laptop open to an important-looking spreadsheet. And while they don’t serve food here, they’ll let you bring some in - so you might as well take advantage of our Chicago Delivery Greatest Hits.
Because there’s no better time or place for day drinking than when your flight’s been delayed for the third time.