The 9 Best Dive Bars In Chicago
By Chicagoist_Guest in Food on Apr 7, 2016 2:47PM
By Raf Miastkowski
Everyone basically knows what a dive bar is. They come in different shapes and sizes, but like a porno, people recognize one when they see one. Juke box and a boilermaker special? Yeah, that’s probably a dive. Complex, pungent smells and a bartender who feels palpable, catlike indifference to your presence? You bet. Chicago has hundreds of dives, all of them cut from roughly the same cloth, but intangible qualities still make some stick out from the rest. So, armed with a reckless indifference to taste and logic, we present to you our list of the best dive bars in Chicago.
Hyde Park has limited options for watering your face hole, which basically guarantees that the dingy-yet-charming Woodlawn Tap pulls in steady customers. However, its proximity to University of Chicago also ensures that this classic dive’s crowd sometimes includes Nobel Prize winners. This makes it a rare breed among other dives, where discussions about the Bears O-line and the validity of dibs can stretch on indefinitely, like viewing a Netflix marathon inside a black hole. This is a good spot to catch a Sox game, see live jazz, and argue with smahhhht kids.
Woodlawn Tap is located at 1172 E 55th St.
Photo via Yelp
Spend enough time watching White Sox games here, and eventually you will have an epiphany that—much like getting through the majority of life unscathed—Shinnick's is all about faith, hope, and delusion. This Bridgeport corner tap has been serving suds since the exalted end of the Prohibition, and fills up with thirsty bar-goers during Sox games and St. Patrick’s Day. Otherwise, it’s a quiet hangout where locals swap stories about da mare and the crazy art kids that are moving into the neighborhood.
Shinnick’s Pub is located at 3758 S Union Ave.
This bar is really charming, so shut up about it already. An old-guy hang sometimes frequented by bohemian youngsters, Bernice's Tavern occasionally requires visitors to ring the buzzer at the door before coming in. Inside, tchotchkes and Christmas lights are strewn about, and a decent jukebox keeps spirits high. We recommend coming for Wednesday-night Stingo, a humorous version of bingo where Steve dishes out shots and bags of chips to winners.
Bernice’s Tavern is located at 3238 S Halsted St.
Located near Midway Airport, Mr. C’s Midway Bar attracts airline employees and a crowd of locals who probably wouldn’t wake up from a nap if a 747 landed in their driveway. The wood-paneled bar has cheap drinks, a dartboard, TVs, a pool table—basically everything that you’d need from a local haunt. But run into a stewardess or pilot, buy them a round, and be endlessly entertained by bonkers stories of flying around the world.
Mr. C’s Midway Bar is located at 4654 W 63rd St.
A dive for the ages, the Old Town Ale House is in the running for the quintessential Chicago bar. Covered in portraits that regular-turned-manager Bruce Elliott painted of notable regulars (and not-so-notable regulars), the Ale House also boasts a fantastic juke box that’s packed with jazz, opera, and folk classics. Thanks to its location next to the Second City, it’s been frequented by everyone from Dan Aykroyd to Bill Murray, and today remains one of Anthony Bourdain’s favorite hangouts anywhere.
Old Town Ale House is located at 219 W North Ave.
Step into Gold Star Bar on the right weekday night, and for all intents and purposes, become instantly transported into a Nick Cave song. Patrons anchored to the bar hold onto their cans of Blatz and shots of Kessler like they’re crucifixes, while the excellent jukebox plays rock ‘n’ roll classics that encourage drinking with a purpose. On weekends, the scene livens up a bit, and you can usually spot people shooting stick in the back. One-million bonus points: Gold Star Bar recently pulled a prank that almost gave regulars heart attacks, promising it would reopen as "The LTC" and provide (to everyone's horror) "the ultimate in luxury sportsbar entertainment."
Gold Star Bar is located at 1755 W Division St.
At this honky tonk joint, the beer is frosty, the music is playing, and no one cares to know your name until you’ve busted out some fiery square-dance moves. During the week you can rock the stage at live-band karaoke, but the optimal time to visit is after 2 a.m. on the weekends (it’s a 4 a.m. bar). You’ll have a helluva time, and the smell of the men’s bathroom will stay with you long into retirement.
Carol’s Pub is located at 4659 N Clark St.
If unsharpened pencils are the bane of your existence, get a load off your chest at the Levee. This family-run dive has been around since 1943, and even has an awesome shrub in the front that's trimmed into the shape of a beer bottle (in the summer). As for that pencil sharpener, it's manual and a real beauty. Runs good, looks good. There’s a lot of space here, almost way too much considering how many people frequent The Levee—so you'll definitely have space to test out some envelope-pushing dance moves. You can also play pop-a-shot bball, and admire the sled that's hanging on the wall like it's an MCA exhibit.
The Levee is located at 4035 W Fullerton Ave.
A quiet Polish slashie where you can shoot pool and order big bottles of Tyskie during the week, Alice’s Lounge transforms into a next-level karaoke bar that stays open until 4 a.m. on the weekends. The talent here really is top notch, and performances are turned up to 11 thanks to a smoke machine, laser lights, and the backing air-saxophone of Fred, the karaoke emcee. Nail your rendition of “Say It Ain’t So” and feel like you’ve dropped the mic on life. Pro tip: Skip dinner and fill up on Alice's heaping baskets of Gardetto’s mix.
Alice’s Lounge is located at 3556 W Belmont Ave.
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Correction, 6 p.m.: We previously said that Gold Star Bar pulled an April Fools' prank, falsely claiming they were reopening as "a conceptual watering hole." The bar really did become a "conceptual watering hole," though, courtesy of street artist Don't Fret, for the first four days of April. Gold Star's real prank was falsely claiming they were becoming a sports bar.