To help you figure out which new restaurants are worth going to, we created The Hit List, our guide to recently opened spots that we actually enjoy. We check out all of these places ourselves - even if a place is being hyped up everywhere, it’s not going to make our cut unless it delivers.
Now, we’re doing the same thing for bars. Chicago has a lot of places to drink and argue about sports and politics, with new spots popping up all the time. Some are okay and some are flat-out terrible, but occasionally, there are some great ones. From relaxed speakeasies to high energy places where you can dance, these are the best new bars in Chicago.
photo credit: Marisa Klug-Morataya
Hidden behind Moon Palace Express’ “kitchen door” is Chinatown’s first speakeasy, Nine Bar. Its dark, neon-lit interior has a futuristic feel that makes you wonder if the bartenders are Bladerunner replicants. This spot has enough lively energy, but it’s also relaxed enough that you don’t have to worry about the table next to you drunkenly rapping along to the upbeat hip-hop music. While you sit at the bar or hang out on their comfy couches, you can sip on a variety of great Asian-inspired drinks with ingredients like Chinese five spice or Thai basil. And if you want something to eat, their small food menu has great options like crispy hot mapo fries or a juicy fried pork sandwich with tangy tonkatsu sauce.
Moonflower is a dimly lit, spacious Portage Park bar that works great for a lowkey group hang or date. The cocktail menu has a mix of solid classics like Old Fashioneds and negronis, along with creative drinks like a play on a White Russian made with vodka, soju, matcha, and condensed milk. Foodwise, they have snacks like garlicky chorizo and cheese pockets or french fries topped with bolognese, parmesan, and pickled jalapenos. The space is full of plants, and they’re usually playing a great mix of funky jams. Luckily the music isn’t so loud that you have to default to the old “smile and nod” while pretending to hear what your date is saying.
This underground bar located in Moonflower’s basement is its brooding, emo sibling. But instead of blasting My Chemical Romance, Nightshade plays an eclectic mix of everything from classic jazz to a steel drum version of 50 Cent’s P.I.M.P. Unlike Moonflower, this place is much more intimate, with only a handful of tables, a smaller bar area, and significantly darker lighting. They also have a completely different cocktail menu, which includes a drink made with poblano and tortilla chips, and one that's inspired by the Korean dessert, bingsu. The food menu is pretty small with only a few things like olives and parmesan fries, so if you’re looking for something more filling, we recommend snacking upstairs before making your descent.
Walking into Quality Time in Logan Square is like wandering onto a set for That 70’s Show, thanks to the rustic wooden interior and vintage leather seating. The front area is fairly small, but they also have an additional back area with extra booths perfect for when it starts to get crowded, or during weekend DJ sets. But even at its busiest, it doesn’t feel like a nightclub—it’s still a great place for a low-key hang. Their solid drink menu includes originals like the Back To Life, a sweet and spicy rum-based drink with honey and chile. And if you need a second wind, there’s no better choice than their frozen Red Bull-infused Vegas bomb. They also have tamales from the Tamale Guy, and we can’t think of a more ideal 12am snack.
Appropriately named, Bunker is located in the basement of an apartment building in the West Loop. And we wouldn’t mind if this was our Doomsday safehouse. This well-lit underground bar has tons of room for large groups, arcade games, shuffleboard, and a pretty tasty food menu with tacos and burritos. In addition to a few draft beers and some wine, they also have a small cocktail menu with creative options like a drink with popcorn-infused tequila, or the earthy Train Delays made with matcha and white rum. And if being underground makes you feel claustrophobic, they also have a massive dog-friendly patio.
photo credit: Clayton Hauck
The California Clipper
After closing in 2020, this historic Humboldt Park bar reopened earlier this year under new ownership with a new menu, new DJ lounge, and a new sound system. But despite these changes, we’re happy that this dark bar maintained the same old-timey atmosphere—complete with its signature red light that makes you feel like you should be processing camera film. They also have a regular schedule of DJ sets and live music, and is still a fantastic place to hang out and dance. The California Clipper’s new cocktail menu is shorter, but has a great selection of drinks like a refreshing highball with coconut and Pimm’s Cup, as well as some non-alcoholic options, too.
Mother's Ruin in Avondale is great for meeting up for drinks when you don't want to commit to a full dinner, but still want the option to grab some food. This casual cocktail bar has tasty snacks like pimento cheese with fried saltines, a very good smash burger, and deep-fried red velvet Oreos. The food is way better than it needs to be, the cocktails are all $12, and the space is busy without feeling chaotic. Plus the kitchen is open until at least 2am 365 days a year.
photo credit: Kim Kovacik
Aztec Dave's Cantina
Aztec Dave’s began as a food truck in Pilsen, and now has a brick and mortar location in Humboldt Park. And the new Dave’s is a great low-key bar perfect for hanging out with friends, watching a game, or dining (and drinking) solo. The margaritas are tasty, the beer is cheap, and the Mexican food is delicious. Freshly fried chips, spicy marinade for tender carne asada tacos, and burritos wrapped with more care than a baby—all of it makes us want to grab a seat at the bar and hang out to watch some sport we hopefully know the rules to.
With a partially-covered patio and wood-burning fireplace, Humboldt Park's The Hi-Lo is a great bar to have a relaxed drink all year long. The menu is divided into “hi” (strong, boozy cocktails) and “lo” (lower ABV options for when you don’t want to get accidentally drunk), with interesting drinks like popcorn masala daiquiri or a slushie with two types of sherry. Unlike a lot of Chicago bars, Hi-Lo is open seven days a week, and Friday through Monday opens at 2pm. At night the crowd is a little livelier, though you’ll still get the impression that it’s filled with the kind of laid-back people who host game nights. Which is fine by us.