Best Bars in Chicago: The Top 10 Bars in the City

Flush with lovingly salvaged furnishings, locally produced spirits, and a devoted staff, Scofflaw easily tops all the taverns in the city.

Scofflaw easily tops all the taverns in the city.   Photo: Anna Knott

1. Scofflaw

Is the best bar in Chicago really a gin joint in once-downtrodden Logan Square that has barely celebrated its first birthday? Hell yeah. For one thing, this place has serious craft cocktail cred: Co-owner Danny Shapiro apprenticed with mixology whiz Paul McGee at The Whistler (No. 5). Now he’s turned a barely marked corner spot on West Armitage Avenue into a refuge for both the blossoming creative class who live nearby and innovative-cocktail lovers who aren’t skittish about drinking outside the box (and won’t say no to a free cookie at midnight). Flush with lovingly salvaged furnishings, locally produced spirits, and a devoted staff who elevate the once-sidelined juniper berry-based spirit, Scofflaw easily tops all the taverns in the city.

Who’s there: Cocktail connoisseurs, mellow 30-somethings, every other bar’s bartenders
What to order: Swizzle #3 (Death’s Door gin, rum, Lillet blonde, passion fruit, lime, orgeat, bitters)
Find it: 3201 W. Armitage Ave., 773-252-9700, scofflawchicago.com

 
Big Star

2. Big Star

Maybe it’s the whiskey shots talking, but there’s nothing better than a Saturday night spent gorging on pork belly tacos, guac, and margaritas—especially when the team behind standout restaurants Avec and Publican makes them. In good weather, this Wicker Park hot spot’s backyard party vibe seals the deal: If you land a stool, park there for the night. You won’t regret it (until the next morning).

Who’s there: Relaxed day-drinkers followed by a boisterous nocturnal crowd
What to order: The Big Star Margarita or $3 whiskey shot du jour
Find it: 1531 N. Damen Ave., 773-235- 4039, bigstarchicago.com

Photograph: Courtesy of Bar

 

3. The Aviary

Like tattooed, mustachioed mad scientists quarantined in their lab, mixologists gather behind an illuminated wall, where they are obscured by billows of dry ice and steam. (The Aviary’s owner is Grant Achatz, chef of boundary-pushing restaurant Next, which adjoins it). The experience—while hard on your wallet—is not to be missed.

Who’s there: Fiscally blessed foodies craving a show
What to order: In the Rocks (rye, bitters, and vermouth cocooned in a hollow ice cube)
Find it: 955 W. Fulton Market, 312-226-0868, theaviary.com

 
Maria's Packaged Goods and Community Bar

4. Maria’s Packaged Goods and Community Bar

Named for the owners’ mother, Maria Marszewski, who bought it in 1986, this Bridgeport anchor got spruced up two years ago with art deco accents and reclaimed materials. But it’s still an enormously appealing come-as-you-are store-slash-tavern—the best place to drink good beer on the South Side.

Who’s there: Craft brew enthusiasts from all over the city
What to order: Beer (obviously). There are 450 varieties on offer.
Find it: 960 W. 31st St., 773-890-0588, community-bar.com

Photograph: Marian Frost

 
The Whistler

5. The Whistler

Inventive cocktails at reasonable prices. DJs, live music that spans genres, or Movieoke (exactly what it sounds like) every night, sans cover charge. What’s not to like?

Who’s there: Artsy locals and the occasional barhopping bro
What to order: The Quill (a pseudo negroni with absinthe)
Find it: 2421 N. Milwaukee ave., 773-227-3530, whistlerchicago.com

Photograph: Robert Brenner

 
Rootstock

6. Rootstock

With 20 or so offerings by the glass (most under $10) and a low-key vibe, this wine bar eschews the standard stuffiness. The owners stock their pond with mostly Old Worlds but liven up the mix with nontraditionals from small family producers and biodynamic operations. Reading the list can enlighten even seasoned oenophiles.

Who’s there: Canoodling couples and neighborly wine drinkers of all stripes
What to order: 2010 Tire Pé Diem Bordeaux
Find it: 954 N. California Ave., 773-292-1616, rootstockbar.com

Photograph: Katie Stratton

 

7. Drumbar

This moody lounge in the Raffaello Hotel, with its couch-filled nooks and intimate terrace, scores high in ambiance. And it pours a stellar cocktail, thanks to the addition of Craig Schoettler (formerly of the Aviary, No. 3) behind the bar.

Who’s there: Corporate card carriers, Gold Coast glitterati
What to order: The Pineapple (green Chartreuse, pineapple juice, lime juice, mint)
Find it: 201 E. Delaware Pl., 312-943-5000, drumbar.com

 
Half Acre

8. Half Acre Tap Room

This 70-seater adjacent to the lauded Northcenter brewery has a singular focus: Half Acre beers. There are no TVs, no swizzle sticks, and no nibbles—but the owner doesn’t mind if you bring in food.

Who’s there: The brew equivalent of locavores
What to order: Sticky Fat (a dark ale)
Find it: 4257 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-248-4038, halfacrebeer.com

Photograph: craftbeercompass.com

 
Delilah's

9. Delilah’s

Tattooed metalheads rub shoulders with spirits snobs at this underlit late-night purveyor of head-banging music, cutthroat pool playing, and more than 500 (gulp!) whiskeys.

Who’s there: Preppy locals, people with piercings
What to order: Parker’s Heritage Collection ten-year-old wheated bourbon
Find it: 2771 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-472-2771, delilahschicago.com

Photograph: Courtesy of bar

 
Joie de Vine

10. Joie de Vine

What started as a local wine bar with a lesbian fan base has evolved into a destination for craft beer hounds who prefer their suds without the scene. The beer tally now tops 90, and a custom cocktail program will wow your friends who appreciate small-batch distilleries and regional producers.

Who’s there: Scene-averse tipplers
What to order: Name the liquor you like and let them figure it out
Find it: 1744 W. Balmoral Ave., 773-989-6846

Photograph: Courtesy of bar

 

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comments
2 years ago
Posted by Brew_Hunter

How does Maria's make this list but not "The 6 Best Craft Beer Havens" list? That list can be found here: http://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/February-2013/Best-Bars-in-Chicago-6-Best-Craft-Beer-Havens/index.php

2 years ago
Posted by BradBall

Great to see a neighborhood brewery on this list! Half Acre is helped shape the craft beer scene in Chicago in tremendous ways. It should be noted the Half Acre brewery and taproom are in Northcenter, not Ravenswood as the listing here states. Don't take my word for it though - they say so on their website halfacre.com. Would be great to see that updated in the online posting if possible.

Sincerely,
Brad Ball
Associate Director
Northcenter Chamber of Commerce

2 years ago
Posted by diceguy

This list does not seem to have a writer or writers attached to it. I'd like to know how credible this list actually is, as I disagree with your compilation of the craft beer haven list. Also, Scofflaw is okay, but seems questionable as your number one overall choice.

1 year ago
Posted by kingnation

scofflaw is an out of place bar in a working neighborhood. they never consider things like that. it is a good location, too, for a restaurant for the people- kedzie and armitage.

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