Perfect for:Exploring the wonders of green tea shochu under the guiding hand of serious bartenders who also happen to be really nice
Start with:The Highball No. 2, with Japanese whisky and pommeau — it tastes like a Normandy orchard landed in Honshu
The moment you arrive at Kumiko, you’re served a cup of tea — warm in the winter and chilled in the summer — presented to you in a delicate cup (when we were there, it was a forest-green ceramic vessel sourced from a Japanese market). It’s a quiet invitation to leave the day behind and settle in for a singular experience. Certainly, creative director Julia Momose’s cocktails, which highlight sake, shochu, and other Japanese spirits, are minor works of art, and it’s no exaggeration to say that chef de cuisine Mariya Russell’s food — nigiri with caviar, a tempura prawn with a zip of yuzu kosho, steamed pork belly buns — is worth a trip in its own right. But it’s the subtle touches like that cup of tea, or the purse hook that magically appears under the bar, or the thoughtful array of feminine products in the restroom, that really wooed us. In other words, Kumiko is the best new bar in Chicago not just because of the beautiful things Momose and her colleagues are setting before you. It’s because of how those things are served: with a precise but soothing attentiveness, the kind that ensures you’ll never feel stupid asking questions or regret trying something outside your comfort zone. 630 W. Lake St.
Marz Community Brewing Co.
Perfect for:When everyone in your group wants to drink something different
Start with:The Bubbly Kriek, a Berliner Weisse with cherries — because, hey, you’re a block away from the actual Bubbly Creek
What does the future of drinking look like? To judge from Marz’s taproom, it’ll be weird and wonderful. Not content to stick to a typical line of IPAs, Pilsners, and porters, the brewers here experiment with dill-flavored weiss beers and Polish-sausage-inspired lagers, to name just a few recent forays. They also dabble in vinegary shrub sodas, house-roasted coffee, yerba maté, and even CBD-infused “elixirs.” Part brewpub, part mad-scientist lab, part arcade, and part community gathering place, Marz is one big beautiful freak-out dropped into an industrial corner of the South Side. 3630 S. Iron St.
Marz taps a variety of artists — some local — to create its labels. Here’s the story behind three of those designs.
1. Bubbly Kriek
Designed by Paul Nudd
“My artwork is really rooted in biology, cell division, and mutation,” says Nudd. “It has a lot to do with fermentation — this beer is alive.”
2. Dans le Sud
Designed by Adi Goodrich
“I thought about beer as a soup, with heat, yeast, and all the other ingredients,” Goodrich says. Her avant-garde label also nods to 1960s artist Guy Debord, who celebrated the joy in everyday life.
3. Jungle Boogie
Designed by Luke Pelletier
“I’d seen something that was jungly in Pelletier’s work, and we asked him to lean into that,” says Michael Freimuth, Marz’s creative director. “We were looking for something very organic.”
The Bamboo Room
Near North Side
Perfect for:Getting schooled in cane spirits, from funky Jamaican rums to grassy Mexican aguardientes
Start with:The Jet Pilot, a stirred take on the traditionally shaken classic that’s moody enough for the dark days of winter
After years of whiskey dominance, Chicago is in the midst of a rum craze, and nowhere are bartenders doing more mind-blowing things with that spirit than at the Bamboo Room, a 22-seat hideaway within Three Dots and a Dash. Beverage director Kevin Beary drizzles cachaça and brandy over apple shaved ice, clarifies banana rum so it’s even more banana-y than a banana, and pours tastes of rare sugarcane spirits. Meet your new tiki idol. 435 N. Clark St.
Perfect for:Geeking out on pét-nats and orange wines
Start with:Any by-the-glass option scrawled on the chalkboard
If you’re the kind of person who orders a glass of Cabernet no matter the occasion, Noisette, the bar and restaurant adjacent to Red and White Wines, is not your jam. But if you want to get freaky with a skin-contact apple wine from Vermont and chase it with an old-vine Franken Silvaner, then boy, do we have the wine bar for you. 1845 N. Oakley Ave.
Perfect for:Cocktail nerds
Start with:Your favorite classic, even if it’s not on the menu
West Towners mourned the loss of Brad Bolt’s Bar DeVille when it closed its doors in 2017. His follow-up is an old-school room with linoleum floors, wooden rafters, and Bolt behind the bar doing what he does best: expertly mixing old-fashioneds, daiquiris, and crustas and concocting crushable new creations like the Fun Vodka Drink, with — you guessed it — vodka, lime, passion fruit, and angostura bitters. Not thirsty for distilled spirits? Neon Wilderness carries a dozen Champagnes, including a bottle of 2007 Salon Blanc de Blancs Le Mesnil that’ll set you back a grand. 1270 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Perfect for:An elegant nightcap with your classiest friends
Start with:The Negroni (above right, in tumbler), which features a house bitters mix that mellows out the famously bitter cocktail
With its basement setting, cozy couches, candles, tinkling live music, and a hefty menu of bracing cocktails like martinis and grasshoppers, this alluring hotel bar in the Hoxton may just be the best place to end a night on the town. 200 N. Green St.
Recipes, history, and designer Kate Dehler’s midcentury-inspired drawings come together in the drink menu at Lazy Bird, which doubles as a coffee-table book. (Want it on your coffee table? A copy costs $75.) There are 52 cocktails in all — that’s a new one to master every week.
Near North Side
Perfect for:Those nights when a simple margarita just will not do
Start with:The Poleo Negroni, which features Mexican herbs from Rick Bayless’s garden
Rick Bayless’s Frontera Grill has always served one of the best margaritas in town. But when his daughter, Lanie, opened this bar in Frontera’s basement and started serving food-driven drinks — like the Pineapple, Ginger, a blend of mezcal, pineapple, ginger, lime, and a hint of bitter Mexican amaro — that capture the bounty of a Mexican market in a glass, there was an exhilarating sense that the baton had been passed. 443 N. Clark St.
Perfect for:Enjoying a little “me time” over a katsu sandwich and a draft punch
Start with:Christmas drinks. Seriously! The Yuletide edition of Ludlow’s ever-changing menu is not to be missed.
When Wade Hall McElroy and Jeff Donahue of Sportsman’s Club and Estereo took over the Orbit Room, they didn’t mess with its obvious selling points — a giant patio, vintage bar, and retro feel — but instead focused on adding impeccably mixed seasonal drinks and creative bar food. If you never thought cauliflower and tequila were a divinely ordained pairing, this place will change your mind. 2959 N. California Ave.
1. Go simple with the burger — order it with a beer and a shot.
2. The beet hummus goes nicely with the saffron-based Nothing Gold.
3. Snack on the okonomiyaki fritters with the mezcal-forward Electric Funeral.
4. Match the cauliflower sandwich with the tequila-raspberry Fast Hands.
Eris Brewery and Cider House
Old Irving Park
Perfect for:Quietly contemplating the happy intersection of hops, grain, and fruit
Start with:The Van Van Mojo blueberry cider or the Foiken Haze IPA, which showcase the range of Eris’s fermentation talents
This century-old space, formerly a Masonic temple, might offer the most serene drinking experience in town. Sip your drink at the pew-like communal tables beneath soaring ceilings and ponder how impressive it is that Chicago’s first cider house managed to brew a Great American Beer Festival–winning hazy IPA. Can’t decide between beer and cider? Go hybrid with a hopped cider. 4240 W. Irving Park Rd.
Perfect for:Spotting underground bands before they break big while downing hard-to-find beers
Start with:The draft margarita, a bright way to prime your palate
The owners of the Whistler aimed to create the second coming of the Empty Bottle when they took over this onetime cabinet shop, and they have arguably succeeded with this intimate backroom space for small-scale performances by up-and-coming acts. But you don’t need to see a show to hang out at the beautiful bar: a light, spacious, woody room boasting more than 50 taps. 3734 W. Belmont Ave.
Twisted Hippo Taproom and Eatery
Perfect for:Having a plain ol’ good time. You’re still allowed to have those at a brewpub, right?
Start with:An out-there beer like the Kölsch brewed with beets to get you in the spirit
Twisted Hippo remembers what so many self-serious craft breweries have forgotten: Beer is fun. With a lighthearted vibe (the mascot is a cartoon hippo named Pinky), Day-Glo design, and all-inclusive menu, this is a party everyone’s invited to. 2925 W. Montrose Ave.
Perfect for:Some grown-up drinking in the shadow of the Friendly Confines
Start with:The off-menu house Manhattan, with 1950s Abbott’s bitters
If you thought you left the Wrigleyville bar scene behind once you hit your late 20s, this spot will make you reconsider. The cocktails, like a sprightly vodka fix, are solid, but you’re really here for the whiskeys. Try a pour of fancy vintage bourbon or ask one of the bartenders to whip up your favorite brown-liquor drink — they’ve perfected every classic you can throw at them. 3632 N. Clark St.
Near North Side
Perfect for:After-work drinks with your coolest colleagues
Start with:The ice-cold Toki highball — straightforward and refreshing, just like this bar
Good Measure leans into its punk-rock vibe with glowing red lights, eclectic art, and an anything-goes mentality. You can add literally any menu item to any other, meaning the meatball-topped Polish sausage you’ve always dreamed of can be yours at last. With well-executed classics, canned beers, and a handful of wines, this is the just-edgy-enough spot the neighborhood demanded. 226 W. Chicago Ave.
Bungalow by Middle Brow
Perfect for:Plotting the overthrow of capitalism over pizza and brut IPAs
Start with:The Pub Beer, brewed with leftover hunks of Middle Brow’s rye loaf
The beers at this hip, pizza-slinging brewpub (which, not for nothing, took the No. 1 spot in this magazine’s recent pizza rankings) range from approachable IPAs to oak-fermented experiments. If you’re at least as interested in doing good as you are in getting sideways, Middle Brow is the place for you. It donates a portion of its revenue to social justice organizations and regularly rolls out initiatives like providing breakfast for underprivileged kids. 2840 W. Armitage Ave.
Near North Side
Perfect for:Letting loose with your old study-abroad friends
Start with:A long-spouted porrón of Basque txakoli
Don’t pretend you’re not getting a porrón for the table. Order it with your choice of fizzy, rosé, or still txakoli, pass it around to all your friends, then devour a Spanish ham board to start the night. There’s an excellent European bottle list, and a capable somm to help navigate it, when you’re ready for the next round. 441 N. Clark St.
Near North Side
Perfect for:A special occasion, but not a fussy one
Start with:The Brown Line, a blend of tequila, mezcal, pineapple syrup, lemon, lime, and tamarind with a black garlic garnish that provides a bizarrely pleasant waft when you sip
The name of this surreptitious spot in the basement of the FieldHouse Jones Hotel isn’t some kind of metaphor: You are drinking in an actual janitor’s closet. And it looks that way, with custodial supplies and mops hanging from every available patch of wall space. If that sounds too ridiculous for a speakeasy concept, then know that head bartender Jef Tate takes his drinks very seriously, cleaning up the competition with a roughly fifty-fifty mix of classics and smartly mixed new creations. 312 W. Chestnut St.
Chicago Magic Lounge
Perfect for:A (literally) magical date night
Start with:Skip the signature cocktails in favor of the classics, like an expertly crafted Sazerac
If “Want to see a magic trick?” sounds like a bad pickup line, then you haven’t been to Chicago Magic Lounge, where a rotating cast of magicians perform card tricks and other sleights of hand behind the bar. There are ticketed shows as well, but the magic at the bar is free — order a drink and suspend all disbelief. 5050 N. Clark St.
District Brew Yards
Perfect for:Indecisive drinkers
Start with:Burnt City’s Pterodactyl Deathscream, a creamy, juicy, hyperhoppy double IPA
It was only a matter of time before someone created a “food hall” for breweries, and somehow District Brew Yards managed to successfully jam a pour-your-own-beer concept in there, too. Four breweries — Around the Bend Beer Co., Bold Dog Beer Co., Burnt City Brewing, and Casa Humilde — one barbecue joint, and one huge wall of coolers with fresh cans add up to Chicago’s most imaginative slashie. 417 N. Ashland Ave.
Near North Side
Perfect for:Taking in a great view over even better drinks — as long as you have the company card
Start with:The pitch-perfect old-fashioned
When a rooftop bar attracts a beer-swilling bachelor party, businessmen nursing martinis, and doctors in their scrubs, you’ve found the single sky-high drinking den that appeals to everyone. The drinks, like the bottled Cozmo, do too. 108 E. Superior St.
Perfect for:A mellow apéritif while you wait for your friends to get off work
Start with:The bracing No. 1, a mixture of Campari, tequila, guava, and lime
With fluorescent decor, unusual cocktails (like a sherry rickey), CBD iced tea, and scarfable Filipino food, Young American is a serious bar that checks its pretense at the door. 2545 N. Kedzie Ave.