The 18 Best New Bars In Chicago
Chicago, it's said, is a city of neighborhoods and those areas were once forged on the backs of public houses, taverns, bars, lounges and dark alcoves where liquid alchemy and social intercourse awaited those who were deemed of being buzzed inside.
That heyday is long gone but we still like to head out for a drink or three, sometimes out of our comfort zone. New bars open every day. Many of them close; the best rise like cream to the top of a packed heap.
Following are 18 bars that have opened within the past 15 months we feel are worth your money and a visit or two. These don't have to be kept secret.
Logan Square’s Slippery Slope opened in May and has quickly become a place that is as attractive to those who love a cozy and fun dive bar, as it is to a clientele who want a “club” atmosphere. The setup of the bar nicely accommodates both the “hang out and drink” type as well as the “dance and drink” type. With the dance floor in the back, there is never the awkward necessity for a non-boogiedown type to navigate a crowded dance floor to grab a drink, while those wanting to groove to solid sets by local DJs can have their space to move with abandon. Their excellent and ever-changing craft cocktails are designed by the Scofflaw crew and mixologist, Danny Shapiro, keeping the booze options fresh. The $8 cocktails are served in glass bottles, adding a practicality and uniqueness. The bargain option is their draft beer ranging from $2 Hamm’s to $4 Allagash White and $5 Guinness. If you need more reasons to check out this place, there are three SkeeBall machines and a walk-up window serving Frito Pies and Mother-in-Laws (a tamale served in a hot dog bun) for late-night cravings. Slippery Slope is one of the most unique bars of 2014 and is the kind of place that should satisfy everyone in your party posse every day of the week. — Carrie McGath
Slippery Slope is located at 2357 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Vice District Brewing Taproom
Flashy is not what Vice District Brewing is going for and that’s not a diss by any means. The exposed bricks, tanks, cement floor and open ceilings give the taproom an industrial yet friendly feel—the staff helps plenty in the friendliness department. Black and white photos adorn the back walls, all of them from Chicago during the early 20th century when the South Loop was the city's vice district, which acts as a reminder of the brewery’s namesake. Prices for pints, howlers and growlers are written in chalk on the front wall, while menu’s can be found at the counter, providing easy descriptions as to what ingredients are in your beer and how it should taste. Serving six of their originals on tap, the lineup includes an IPA, Black IPA, Porter and Everleigh, an English Style Special Bitter worth some special attention. — Ben Kramer
Vice District Brewing is located at 1454 S. Michigan Ave.
While the hearty and well-executed German fare from Chef Nathan Sears shines, the Radler’s imported beer selection makes the bar a worthwhile stop. How often do you see the divine Ayinger Celebrator on tap and available in two sizes? Beer hall tables make group drinking easy and the solid service accommodates without hesitation. They manage to keep it cool minus the pretension, which could be one factor for the median age here: it definitely skews high compared with the onslaught of sprightly bars in Logan Square—a welcome change. Local and regional breweries showcase their German styles—again an appreciated difference from IPA-laden handles—but the real star is the wide selection of German and Austrian beers on tap, including the Radler’s namesake brews from Flesk Brewing in Lombard. Discovered vintage beer ad aside, the decor remains modest, leaving you and your beer alone to enjoy the eve. — Kristine Sherred
The Radler is located at 2375 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Rogers Park Social
With a focus on local spirits and brewers and a seasonally inspired drink menu, this Rogers Park drinkery is the quintessential neighborhood gay bar. Maybe it’s the vintage couches and chairs hand-picked from resale shops, garage sales, and even the owners’ own living room, but Rogers Park Social effortlessly exudes a “regular guys hanging out” vibe. (If HBO’s Looking were filmed in Chicago instead of San Francisco, this lounge would be a location scout’s dream). Manhole (formerly Chloe's and before that, Spin), another new gay bar launched 2014, is a tad less accessible for some, with a “shirts off or gear” dress code for admittance to the dance floor. Manhole attracts men with open minds, hearts, and other body parts. (Ah, Spin, RIP—you had a good run.) My recommendation: A standout on Rogers Park Social’s new winter menu is the Hot Buttered Rum featuring Blackwell Jamaican Rum, Kerrygold butter, dark brown sugar, and spices. — Tony Peregrin
Rogers Park Social is located at 6920 N. Glenwood Ave.
Parts And Labor
I love everything about the joint. Burgers that put Au Cheval to shame, killer tunes (even if occasionally the volume trends a bit towards the too loud side when the space is emptier), a super friendly staff and decor heavily weighted towards layering of wood and a warm feel help push this new-ish joint to the top of our “must frequently visit” list. Logan Square is currently quickly suffocating on its tail as it ceaselessly seeks to consume whatever the latest “vibe” may be, so this place is a welcome oasis of genuine warmth in a sea of outdated hipsterdom. — Jim Kopeny / Tankboy
Parts And Labor is located at 2700 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Headquarters River North
Arcade bars have clearly proven successful in Chicago but Headquarters' newest location in the old Enclave space is really giving us a chance to stretch our legs when it comes to classic pinball—literally! The two-story space is huge, giving it an equally fun but slightly less cramped feel than its Lakeview counterpart. The decor (hollowed out TV sets acting as liquor cabinets and menus made from high school yearbooks) is quirky, the cocktails are delicious (try the Mott’s) and the games are free—which is awesome! Play on, gamers! — Katie Karpowicz
Headquarters River North is located at 213 W. Institute Place.
After plenty of scheduling setbacks, Lagunitas at last started brewing at their Douglas Park facility, enticing thirsty patrons to stroll through their starry Willy Wonka corridors en route to a beer oasis complete with a view. An in-the-round bar, complimentary stadium peanuts, and a live band make for good old-fashioned fun. The beer hall vibe is not Oktoberfest rowdy but definitely pimps the beer itself over frilly service, and at $5 a beer—for their flagship IPA, the Sumpin' Sumpin', a collaboration, or anything on tap—it’s easy to understand why. Their Midwest facility carried Lagunitas from the top ten to a top-five craft brewer. In choosing Chicago as a second home base, they have added to our humble city on the national brewing map in more ways than one, and hopefully have spurred our fantastic local brewers (and brewers-to-be) to continue progressing. Though Lagunitas has a handle at basically every bar in town, it’s worth the trip to Douglas Park to relish in the glory of consistently quality beer in its most natural state. We’ve done good, Chicago. — Kristine Sherred
Lagunitas Taproom is located at 1823 S. Washtenaw Ave.
The name still makes me roll my eyes, but it’s one of the few refuges in Chicago for the type of person who works best while drinking a pint of beer. Plug in your laptop, grab one of their extensive and delicious selections, and enjoy it while typing up a best new bars list or something. — Melissa McEwen
Beermiscuous is located at 2812 N Lincoln Ave.
Is it really possible to drink at a bar with no sign and not feel cool? This hip hangout in the thick of Logan Square is no secret, but it’s big enough with plenty of pockets to where you don’t have to feel crowded if you don’t want to. Get there early, meaning 10 p.m., to grab a table for candle lit, whiskey-induced conversation but arrive any later than midnight and you’ll have no choice but to hit the dancefloor and check out East Room’s consistently strong rotation of DJs. Now if only the owners would let this writer call standing dibs on the wood-lined, formerly operational elevator turned private booth. — Katie Karpowicz
East Room is located at 2828 W. Medill Ave.
As its website reads, Lone Wolf is "just what the neighborhood needed." The West Loop's drinking public breathed a collective sigh of relief upon entering the modest concrete and glass block building for the first time to find a bar's bar inside. No Restaurant Row reservations are required to slide up to the wood bar or roomy leather booths. If Randolph Street is known for culinary cutting-edge and complexity, Lone Wolf deals in the simple pleasures of a solid draft list, classic cocktails and apéritifs, and savory snacks by Pleasant House Bakery. Perfect for a pre-dinner drink or after work shot and beer, the moodily lit Lone Wolf is indeed an imbiber’s den. — Jessica Mlinaric
Lone Wolf is located at 806 W. Randolph St.
Though a digital menu somehow seems a touch too futuristic even in 2014, Links uses the benefits of auto-update for a rotating draft list wisely. Residents and neighbors were (or should have been) skeptical of yet another one-word bar entering the scene after the appreciated demise of Cans, but Links triumphantly pulls through with three nitro taps, two available sizes for every draft, and genial service. Laid-back, good for singles, good for groups, games, and sausages, Wicker Park needed a bar like this one. Perhaps a testament to a corporate upbringing, owners Michael Quinlan and Cary Michael (a LEYE and Rockit vet who then opened Branch 27) pushed all the right buttons. Just don’t take the ratings listed under each beer to heart; not everyone knows what’s good for them! — Kristine Sherred
Links Taproom is located at 1559 N. Milwaukee Ave.
I was introduced to Analogue through their amazing food menu, particularly their Tuesday fried chicken and their laid back brunch menu that is full of southern classics, but Chicagoist would be remiss not to mention their excellent beverage program that is the cornerstone of any new, wonderful bar. Because even with excellent food they are at heart a bar, a place to join a friend for a nightcap while eclectic music plays as you slide into a dimly lit booth. And of course the drink menu is thoughtful and excellent, not surprising since Analogue is the brainchild of two Violet Hour alums. First off, they are one of the few, if not only, bar in Chicago offering up purls, a bitter and beer drink that is truly interesting and unique in flavor. They’ve got shots and fishbowls on the menu but these aren’t your usual spring break variety, think more classic like an old fashioned shot, but they are still just as dangerously potent. Their brunch cocktails are refreshing and they make my new favorite Bloody Mary in town. The full cocktail menu is seasonal and they just launched their winter menu, so I’ll be stopping by soon to try a few out. Everything I’ve had at Analogue in the last year, from food to drink, always comes back to balance. Every cocktail I’ve had were on point when it came to the description on the menu, since Analogue’s menu has notes on each cocktail whether the drink is spirit forward, refreshing, bitter, smoky, spicy or a combination of those attributes. I don’t remember every detail and name of all the drinks I’ve enjoyed because I was too busy being completely relaxed, spending hours chatting with friends at one of my new favorite bars. — Lisa White
Analogue is located at 2523 N. Milwaukee Ave.
The Duck Inn
Long a chef who flew under the radar, Kevin Hickey has seen his profile expand since he left Allium at The Four Seasons Hotel and partnered with Billy Dec’s Rockit Ranch Productions. Say what you will about Dec (and we have) he knows a good chef when he sees one and eats their cooking. The Hickey/Dec marriage has already produced the amazing Bottlefork and now this upscale tavern in a former working-class bar in Bridgeport once known as the Gem Bar, not far from where Hickey grew up and still lives. The menu is inspired by Hickey’s grandmother’s original Duck Inn and is chock full of re-imagined comfort food, from a duck fat hot dog to a hamburger sandwich where all the components are placed on the grill, to roast duck and a duck and foie gras tamale. But the bar and lounge is the centerpiece of the Duck Inn. Hickey and wife Javalen stripped away nearly all of the Gem Bar’s former features, leaving only nods to its Prohibition-era past such as a trap door behind the bar, while decorating the interior to give it a swinging 60s feel. The beverage program includes local beers from the likes of Moody Tongue, Marz Community Brewing, Une Annee and Begyle, while bourbon—particularly Wild Turkey—features prominently in house cocktails like “The Don.” Hickey even partnered with Filbert’s soda company to make a propriietary orange soda, the “Duck L’Orange.” The $64,000 question is will the throngs of people who flock to Dec’s other restaurants and clubs make the trek to Bridgeport? It would be nice but it shouldn’t matter. Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar proves if a place is worth visiting, people will make the trek. The Duck Inn is worth visiting. —Chuck Sudo
The Duck Inn is located at 2701 S. Eleanor St.
The Bar At The Allis
When people hear what Soho House is they often say “that sounds pretentious.” Which is maybe why it didn’t get overhyped to the point that it’s unpleasant like the line at Green Street Meats across the street. Instead you can find a solid list of cocktails and a menu of food that reminds me of a feast in Game of Thrones: mountains of pork pies, sausages, and scotch eggs lit by candlelight. — Melissa McEwen
The Allis at Soho House is located at 113 North Green Street.
Max’s Wine Dive
When I’m going out on the town, I try to avoid Wicker Park. The bars are usually flooded with bros trying to pass their tribal tattoos off as hipster and scantily clad ladies who will hopefully visit Flash Taco before releasing their vodka dinner onto the intersection. But 2014 brought us Max’s Wine Dive, the cool, casual wine bar that, unlike many nightlife spots in Wicker, never tries to be anything other than what it is. The neon wine sign on the wall exudes the dives casual, no pressure atmosphere, while the knowledgeable staff tailors their attitude to both wine nerds and newbs alike. The wine list is large but not daunting and the food is perfectly appropriate: fitting for a divey gastropub but friendly with a wine pairing. It’s not the hottest bar in the city, but Max’s is easy and comfortable when you want to drink some champagne and snack on great fried chicken. — Erika Kubick
Max’s Wine Dive is located at 1482 N Milwaukee Ave.
Great cocktails, friendly bartenders and a pleasant patio are the top three qualities I hope for when trying out a new bar and Sportsman's Club delivered on all fronts. This divey yet classic bar, filled with taxidermy and hunting tapestries has character to spare. I recommend cozying up to the bar or staking out a spot on the patio and ordering the Sportsman's Cocktail or their excellent Old Fashioned. When you're forced inside during Chicago's blistery winter months, grab a spot at a table with built-in chess sets and checkers. To make it interesting, you can wager a Lowlife special, which is Sportsman's Club code for a cheap can of beer and a shot.
— Gina Provenzano
Sportsman's Club is located at 948 N. Western Ave.
I had to move to Chicago to learn of this “slashie” concept and realized quickly it is quite genius. Crown Liquors is one of these slashies (half bar / half liquor store) in Avondale. It was purchased from its owner of over a decade, Lourdes Arencibia, by The Rocking Horse, Dante’s Pizza, and High Dive team. The first night I hung out at Crown, I knew it would be one of my new neighborhood spots due to the space’s endearing personality and aura of historical roots. It dates back to the end of the Prohibition Era and is one of those quintessentially “Chicago” bars and its “slashiness” just adds to that feel. Their diverse can and bottle list for beer along with a full bar is priced reasonably and will satisfy the palette of microbrew lover’s and cocktail drinkers alike. It recently played host to a viewing of the Twin Peaks pilot from the group, Twin Peaks Freaks, and the bar had themed cocktails and pie to mark the occasion. It is sure to be a place that will continue to have unique events amid a welcoming and chill vibe and is a space to watch in 2015 and beyond. — Carrie McGath
Crown Liquors is located at 2821 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Located right across the street from the Damen pink line stop, this laid back bar has been serving the neighborhood since fall of 2013, but its inclusion on this list is because it recently acquired a sign and a proper name. Prior to this revamp, patrons called it whatever they associated it with most, whether that was its location (Damen bar) or the name of their favorite bartender. Over the last year, the Chicago-only draft list has grown and strengthened and (at press time) now includes selections from Moody Tongue and Off Color Brewing. Drafts are all $5-$6, which makes it easy and affordable to support the Chicago brewing community. If you want to nerd out about beer or just kick back with a crisp draft and shoot the breeze with whoever happens to sit next to you, I highly recommend stopping in to The Barrel. — Carrie Laski
The Barrel is located at 2015 S. Damen Ave.