CHIGuide

15 Restaurants With Action At The Bar

Where to eat, drink, and meet strangers.

15 Restaurants With Action At The Bar guide image

photo credit: Hugh Galdones

People appreciate a two-in-one. Case in point: reversible jackets, and the fact that Pert Plus still exists. So it’s understandable if, on a night out, you’re looking for the combination of a fun bar and a restaurant with great food. Especially in Chicago, where, for large portions of the year, we do everything possible to prevent going outside more than necessary. Here are 15 restaurants that also have a great bar scene.

The Spots

Siena Tavern imageoverride image
7.7

Siena Tavern

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open table
$$$$(312) 595-1322
Hours:WED
11:30AM-2AM

This is another popular River North spot with an enormous bar area. Siena Tavern is full of young professionals, people in town for business, and tourists who are driving across the United States visiting Top Chef restaurants (because, yes, this is one). The good news is that all of the Italian food here is tasty, so you can’t go wrong no matter what you order. Make sure you get at least one pasta and one of their creative pizzas, like the pear and prosciutto or the roasted brussels sprouts with sausage. There’s usually a DJ playing in the evening, which adds to the club-like atmosphere, too.


Bar Siena has a loud, crowded space, with a huge bar dominating the first floor and a larger dining area upstairs that’s perfect for groups. Pastas and wood-fired pizzas make up most of the menu, and they’re fantastic. The prosciutto and fig pizza is the perfect balance of sweet and savory, and the gnocchi is pillowy and delicious. If the food wasn’t so good, this place would feel like more of a sh*tshow - so it’s good spot to take your friend who’s been known to occasionally argue with bartenders about last call.


This place is big on atmosphere in the same way Jurassic Park is big on atmosphere. Which means you can come to Beatnik’s bar to drink rum slushies and eat smoked octopus in a jungle full of tropical plants, with a DJ playing the whole time. The food, drinks, and music don’t disappoint, and overall this place is perfect for cocktails, small plates, and avoiding velociraptors.


For some reason one of the hottest, busiest spots in the West Loop happens to be a pizza place - most likely because it has two huge outdoor areas (a patio and a rooftop), and is usually full of people who look like they could be filming a beer commercial. The crowd here is probably a bit more interested in drinking than eating (but the pizza and bar food get the job done if you’re hungry), so this is the kind of place where you can plan to spend your whole night.


La Josie has three full bars and a rooftop deck, meaning there’s action happening all over the place. And impressively, all of the bars get crowded, even on weeknights. Since this place also happens to have great food and drinks, it’s ideal if you’re looking for a party but don’t want to be hungry at the end of the night. The best things here are the tacos (all on house-made tortillas) and Mexican classics like enchiladas. As a bonus, the servers and bartenders are really friendly.


Unlike most bars in River North, Good Measure isn’t club-like. It’s a kind-of-divey place with neon red lights and punk music, and it doesn’t really fit in with the neighborhood. But because of the fantastic cocktails and fun atmosphere, this place still feels like a party. The menu is eclectic, with dishes ranging from Nashville hot fried duck livers to sunflower hummus to a fantastic cheeseburger with foie gras sauteed onions. This is the kind of spot you hit up on the way to your coworker’s party at the Underground, as long as you’re OK with never making it to that party since you’re going to be having such a good time here.


The first thing that hits you when you walk into Etta is the fact that it’s crowded. It’s a loud, busy place, and there will probably be a group waiting for one of the large tables in front of the door. There are two large bars here, one on the first floor and one upstairs, and both are great for hanging out. Wherever you sit, you’ll be able to get delicious housemade pastas and pizzas, plus other dishes (like vegetables and pork shoulder) made in a wood-fired hearth. But fair warning - the “pig picnic” (pork belly and pork shoulder with sides) might not be the best thing to order if you plan on staying out for a while. It could send you straight to bed.


Pub Royale is a cool pub in Wicker Park decorated with Indian-inspired art, hanging lamps, and a motorcycle mounted on the wall. It also has fantastic food and cocktails, including many variations on Pimm’s Cup. Like the art, much of the food here has Indian influences, so you can get India hot chicken, salt cod samosas, or curried mussels with naan. And while it can feel a little like the Thunderdome when it comes to getting an actual table (they don’t take reservations), at least that gives you an ice-breaker like, “Hey, can I just sit here with you?”


You can’t go wrong with The Delta in Wicker Park, no matter what kind of night you’re looking for. It’s an enjoyable, laid-back place with good cocktails and a short menu of Southern small plates (plus a delicious burger). The hallway-shaped space leads to a great back patio, and the busy bar area makes up the majority of the restaurant. So don’t be surprised if you stop in for a drink, then end up eating a full meal at the bar.


Happy Camper is kind of like an adult playground, with tire swing barstools, a rehabbed Airstream camper, and an enormous neon outline of the Great Lakes on the wall. It’s a fun, casual spot that has solid pizzas and beers. Pizza toppings range from the usual suspects to buffalo chicken and pulled pork, and the crust is soft and airy but also crunchy on the outside. If you start missing patio season the moment it ends, or you never got your sash in Brownies and are still bitter, you’ll like Happy Camper.


Sushi-san in River North has loud rap music, a long list of cocktails and Japanese whiskies, and an active bar area that’s full of people who may or may not be planning on having dinner here. But you don’t want to come here and not eat something - the sushi is high-quality, and reasonably affordable for the neighborhood. Plus, if you do decide to eat at the bar, you can get a handroll.


This place is a scene, but it’s a scene that comes with fantastic food and a beautiful space filled with plants, ivy, and lots of dressed-up people. There are two large bars, and a huge rooftop patio that’s perfect for hanging out over drinks. Most things on the Mediterranean menu are meant to be shared, and you can pretty much make a dinner out of all the spreads. Just make sure to edit yourself if you’re ordering food at the bar - six varieties of hummus can take up a lot of room.


The best way to approach this brew pub in the West Loop is to head upstairs, where there’s more of a party atmosphere. You’ll find big tables and a nice view of Randolph, and it’s perfect if you plan on hanging out for a while. The short menu has a few varieties of DIY tacos (all of which come with fresh tortillas and your choice of meat), and the beers - mainly European-style pilsners and lagers - go really well with the food. You can’t reserve a table, and this place gets slammed on the weekends, so prepare to wait.


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