Drinking on an empty stomach is a bad idea. Remember that time you went out for happy hour after work, and instead of heading right home, you took an Uber out to Rivers Casino? That was an expensive detour, and might not have happened if you had ordered some food. Or maybe you’re planning a date with someone you still don’t know too well - you’re not ready to commit to dinner, but there’s also a good chance you’ll talk long enough over drinks to get hungry. You need a bar that has great food, just in case. Here are 15 of your best options.
Beatnik1604 W Chicago Ave
At first glance, you might think Beatnik in West Town is only about atmosphere. That’s understandable - the whole place looks kind of like a set from The Darjeeling Limited, and there’s a gimmicky-seeming cocktail menu with stuff like cognac slushies. But the creative drinks are actually really well done, and the food is also tasty and easy to share. You’ll find interesting dishes like rabbit arepa, beet hummus, and fried quail. Just know you may be eating it on an ornate daybed from Bali.
If you’re one of the hundreds of people working at Google in the West Loop, you might already be aware of Cold Storage, the casual seafood spot attached to Swift & Sons. If you’re about to work in the West Loop thanks to all the new development, and don’t know about this place yet, plan to come here, grab a drink, and have some exceptionally good oysters at the raw bar.
This Logan Square spot looks like an old tavern, but in the same way your hipster friend looks like a Charles Dickens character. Under the surface, both are actually pretty modern. Billy Sunday is designed for someone who recently became interested in “mixology” - they have a solid menu with interesting drinks, and even offer classes on the “history of spirits.” It’s not all about the drinks, though - there are solid small plates like smoked oysters and duck rillettes, too. Come here with anyone you’d consider giving barware as a present.
It’s up for debate where The Delta’s food falls on the “light bite” spectrum - most of the Southern tamales the restaurant specializes in are heavy (except maybe the vegan one), but they’re definitely small, so as far as we’re concerned, they count. It’s a cozy, upbeat place, with great food and a solid cocktail menu. They have a bunch of different “smashes” (cocktails made with crushed ice), and also cocktail “vases” that are excellent for sharing with a group. If it’s summertime, be sure to snag a spot on their back patio.
This River North spot is themey - it’s a tiki bar serving tropical cocktails in mugs shaped like pineapples, conch shells, and mermaids (among other things). You can also get island-style dishes like coconut shrimp and pork skewers. It feels like a beach party, and is a great place to go with friends on a night when you want to forget you live in a city that has winter for six months of the year.
We’re always looking for reasons to be at Avec. One of the many situations it’s perfect for is ordering glasses of wine and Spanish small plates at the bar. It’s worth knowing that many of the large plates, as well as their bacon-wrapped dates, can be made into half orders. Sample a few of the menu’s greatest hits while saving your budget for more of their wine.
Don’t go to The Purple Pig, on the Magnificent Mile, unless you’re prepared to deal with tons of people, mainly tourists, in and outside of the restaurant. If you can get past that, know that it’s one of our favorite places to take someone visiting Chicago, and despite the crowds, we’ll also hit it up without visitors if we already happen to be downtown. They don’t take reservations, and a good amount of the seating is at the bar, which has a good view of the kitchen. Their Mediterranean small plates are delicious, and they also have an extensive, affordable wine list.
Scofflaw in Logan Square feels like the drawing room of a Victorian house - it’s dimly lit and cozy, with old-timey chairs around a fireplace. Their drink menu focuses on quality gin cocktails, and they also serve solid food, including fresh-baked cookies that only become available after midnight. So in other words, if you make it to midnight, you get a reward.
Want to go all out? Pops For Champagne in River North is the move. They have a large menu of sparkling wine, champagne, and champagne cocktails. On the food side of things, there’s a bunch of cheeses and charcuterie, and plenty of caviar, if that’s included in your definition of “light bites.” If you’re having a girls’ night out and feel like going for broke, this place will definitely impress your friends.
Arbella is right next to Tanta, and owned by the same people. Tanta is Peruvian, but Arbella’s drinks and food are more global, and the map-like cocktail list looks less like a menu and more like something you’d use to find Carmen Sandiego. The cocktails are inspired by various countries on the map, like the “PB&J” (peanut butter infused vodka and jelly ice) for the US, or a “snow cone” with sake, pisco, and Red Bull syrup for Antarctica, which helps explain why no one lives in Antarctica. As for food, you can expect bar snacks like shawarma empanadas, and small dishes like Korean fried chicken, tacos, and bao.
Lone Wolf is in the West Loop, and surrounded by busy restaurants, so a lot of people just use it to kill time. But that’s a mistake - it happens to be a great destination in its own right, with a large bar, plenty of comfy booths, and tasty snacks to tide you over while you wait for that table at Au Cheval. It’ll be available any time now, we’re sure.
This place in River North has everything you need for a good one-two-punch situation. Start out at Leviathan, the cocktail bar that overlooks Portsmith’s dining room, for sea monster-themed cocktails in elaborate glassware. Then head downstairs to Portsmith for raw and “lightly cooked” seafood dishes - including a few types of oyster preparations (raw, fried, or “fancy,” with foie gras, for example). It’s all inside the Dana Hotel, and it’s upscale, but not a scene, making it great for avoiding the sh*tshow this neighborhood can turn into at night.
The Violet Hour in Wicker Park is a good destination cocktail bar. Its creative (and expensive) cocktails make it great for celebrations, or impressing out-of-towners. This place might seem like it’s trying hard to be cool - from the unmarked door, to the “House Rules,” which ban baseball caps, Cosmopolitans, and any drink that’s a -bomb (jager or otherwise). It doesn’t come off as obnoxious, though, because the craft cocktails really are good, and the food is from the team behind Avec and The Publican. Expect small, but delicious, plates like truffled chickpeas.
This place is a “vintage sports bar” that brags about having “the most Instagrammed interior of 2017,” which probably gives you a good idea of the general feel. It’s designed to look like a turn-of-the-century gymnasium, and has a retro camper on the patio that functions as a bar. These somewhat cutesy touches aside, Park and Field happens to be an excellent spot for grabbing craft beers, eating stuff like burgers or buffalo chicken nuggets, and yes, watching sports. Their huge patio has a firepit that makes it comfortable well into fall, and if you want you can play bocce.
This spot is on the border of Chicago and Evanston, and it’s a great, not-too-well-known option if you’re getting together with your friends who live up north. It feels a little like a dive bar, but it’s too clean to actually be a dive. Inside it’s dark and small, with wooden floors and walls, and reclaimed church pews for seats. Cocktails are straightforward, and the drink menu focuses on excellent renditions of the classics, like Old Fashioneds. Food-wise, you’ll find charcuterie and sandwiches, as well as a fantastic chocolate cake that’s good enough to make the drinks the afterthought.