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Sweet Spots

Looking for a great place to linger over a cocktail? That special outdoor patio? An authentic Irish pub or dance palace of the moment? Whatever your need, we’ve got the perfect bar or club to satisfy it

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S w e e t  S p o t s

Looking for a great place to linger over a cocktail? That special outdoor patio?
An authentic Irish pub or dance palace of the moment?
Whatever your need, we’ve got the perfect
bar or club to satisfy it


Sipping the night fantastic at the mazelike
dance club Sound-Bar

In compiling this roundup of top Chicago bars and clubs, we wanted to offer something more than a static listing of the usual places to dance and drink. So we posed the kinds of questions real people might ask when going out at night. The answers, from the latest hot spots to off-the-beaten-path finds, may surprise you.

>> You contain multitudes, and you want your bar to do the same.
(2771 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-472-2771) is in-your-face eclectic, a dark haven for people who like punk rock, metal, ska, insurgent country music (either on the acclaimed jukebox or spun by DJs), but also English Premier League soccer and art films. Mike Miller, the owner of this Lincoln Park institution, also claims to have one of the best whiskey selections in the world, with 330 different varieties in stock. A look at the other shelves is equally impressive: 250 beers, 60 tequilas, 150 single-malt Scotches, 100 bourbons, and 30 Irish whiskeys. “You could come to Delilah’s every day for three years and not drink the same thing twice,” Miller says, though we don’t advise it.

>> People watching is your entertainment of choice.
Just walking through the Gold Coast area surrounding Tavern on Rush (1031 N. Rush St.; 312-664-9600) is like an anthropological study in beauty and wealth. Park yourself at one of Tavern’s outside tables and witness the well-coifed preeners trying to catch their reflections in a Mercedes parked out front. R. Kelly and his posse often loiter at a corner table, and last summer we spotted a very private and canoodling Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn inside, generating as much smoke with their body heat as with their cigarettes.

>> Teri Hatcher likes to dance around a stripper pole. You do too. But where?
(1431 W. Lake St.; 312-491-8600). The two stripper poles at this 10,000-square-foot West Loop dance club have seen almost as many busty babes as Hugh Hefner’s bed. Porn stars like Jesse Jane, the Club Jenna girls, Vivid’s Tawny Roberts, and even Tommy Lee have taken a spin.

Cabaret (15 W. Hubbard St.; 312-245-3100). It’s all about strutting your stuff at this River North club with the megawatt marquee. When Cabaret dancers aren’t performing on weekends, it’s your moment to shine on the pole-which usually sees more action as the night wears on.

>> Is there a club that plays music for people who care about the sound?
The folks behind Sonotheque (1444 W. Chicago Ave.; 312-226-7600) set out to create a space as acoustically perfect as a recording studio. The sound system, suspended in midair, floats music over patrons, and DJs sit in a booth at the center of the room rather than tucked away on the side. The investment has paid off. World-renowned DJs such as Francois K and Thievery Corporation have played there. And Sonotheque has become a place to see up-and-comer performers like Lady Sovereign, reigning queen of the UK grime scene, before they hit it big.

>> You’re feeling retro and want to relax at an authentic old-time lounge.
The Zebra Lounge (1220 N. State Pkwy.; 312-642-5140), a cozy, conversation-friendly spot on the ground floor of the Canterbury Courts apartment building, is a gem for anyone looking for a throwback, an ode to the days of spending the evening under the supervision of a good bartender and a piano player who doesn’t mind if you call a tune or sing along.

The draw at Delilah’s: a pool table, a killer jukebox, and one of the world’s great whiskey collections.

>> Venerable live-reggae venues like The Wild Hare and Exedus II can be a gamble, depending on the act. Where can you find a consistently great reggae scene?
Anywhere DJ Redlox spins is sure to have an authentic Jamaican house party feel. After eight years spinning at the old Lava Lounge in Wicker Park, Redlox, so named for his long red dreads, has a devoted following, from Rastafarians to college kids. Check the Web site djredlox.com for his latest gigs, or on Thursdays stop by Darkroom (2210 W. Chicago Ave.; 773-276-1411) and listen to the way he plays cutting-edge reggae and Jamaican classics, tweaking the tempo and tone depending on the crowd’s mood, and adding hip-hop, Indian, Arabic, and world music.

>> The 2 a.m. bars have just closed. Do you know where your next cocktail is?
[Wicker Park] The Note
(1565 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-489-0011) typically switches from live music to DJs around 2 a.m., and a poolroom near the main entrance draws a crowd. Given this spot’s popularity, it’s a good idea to arrive at least several minutes before your current bar yells last call. Another great option is Wicker Park Tavern (see Best New Bars and Clubs).

[Old Town] If it’s good enough for Second City alums, The Old Town Ale House (219 W. North Ave.; 312-944-7020), a beer-and-a-shot dive, is good enough for you. After enough drinks you’ll swear that’s your mug in the mural on the wall, not James Joyce’s.

[Lake View] Downstairs from the Metro, Smart Bar (3730 N. Clark St.; 773-529-0203) is ground zero for club music enthusiasts. And even after a recent makeover and upgrade to its sound system, this 24-year-old club still boasts one of the grittiest underground dance parties in the city. It doesn’t even open till 10 p.m.

[Lincoln Park] Wondering where all those frat boys ended up after college? They might’ve traded Birkenstocks for boat shoes but they’re still pounding beers and falling off barstools at Frank’s (2503 N. Clark St.; 773-549-2700).

[Bucktown] At the kitschy corner dive bar Marie’s Riptide Lounge (1745 W. Armitage Ave.; 773-278-7317), Marie Wuczynski has presided over a rowdy retro house parties for nearly 50 years. The electronic skeet shoot reminds us of a time when Golden Tee didn’t exist, the year-round holiday decorations look about as old as Marie herself (she’s 80-something), and the jukebox tends toward Sinatra and Engelbert Humperdinck. Score a booth early to beat the crowds that stumble in around midnight.

[Boys Town] There must be an invisible sign out front of Hydrate (3458 N. Halsted St.; 773-975-9244) that says no shirts are required. Sundays used to feature big-time DJs like Frankie Knuckles, but now the rotating roster of spin-stars leans more toward Ralphi Rosario and DJ Laura B.

[West Ridge] Mark II Lounge (7436 N. Western Ave.; 773-465-9675) has long been a wee-hours boozing oasis, particularly for Northwestern students. Outside of darts and frozen pizza, the amenities are fairly standard, but at “The Deuce,” it’s more about the adventure than the destination.

Servers aim to please at Rockit Bar & Grill.

>> You collect Grateful Dead bootlegs as if you still lived in a college dorm. Where can music junkies get a fix on live-concert recordings?
There’s nothing like hearing your favorite band on a bootleg recording from a past live show, and no other place in Chicago can rival the selection at AliveOne (2683 N. Halsted St.; 773-348-9800). The jukebox holds 100 live shows-from classic Grateful Dead and Who concerts to more recent gigs by Pearl Jam, The Beastie Boys, and Radiohead. Concert photos adorn the walls, and the ambiance is college party chic.

>> You’re an al fresco die-hard, even when there’s snow on the ground.
Village Tap (2055 W. Roscoe St.; 773-883-0817) has a year-round patio with a retractable awning, outdoor heaters, fireplace, and wooden benches and tables that might remind you of summer camp. Come summer, the Tap retracts the awning in nice weather.

>> How about an eclectic spot that appeals to art scenesters and sports buffs?
The Negro League Café (301 E. 43rd St.; 773-536-7000) feels more like an old-fashioned music club than a beer-swilling sports bar. It’s a tribute to the days of Negro League baseball, and sports fans will appreciate the memorabilia and throwback ambiance. Still, the beauty of this Bronzeville bar/restaurant is in how it honors the neighborhood’s history as a jazz mecca, past home to greats like Louis Armstrong and Cab Calloway. On many nights, the flat-screen TV above the bar shows a game, while the café’s backroom is the scene of live jazz or open mic poetry. Check www.thenegroleaguecafe.info for the full schedule.

>> You’re a trivia master and want to test your mettle against the best.
According to the folks behind Buzztime, the trivia game that draws competitors at 4,000 bars across North America, the best-scoring local players congregate at Teaser’s Pub (7123 W. Higgins Ave.; 733-775-7975) on the far Northwest Side. Ranked in the top 200 nationally, Teaser’s is a trivia mecca-in no small part because of someone who plays under the name CLIPPR, a fella who has posted top-100 scores more than 500 times since he began playing eight years ago.

The upstairs lounge at Rockit, where celebs sometimes cue up a game of pool

>> Your inner poet seeks communion with like-minded souls.
The Uptown Poetry Slam at the jazz mecca The Green Mill (4802 N. Broadway Ave.; 773-878-5552) celebrated its 20th anniversary this year, and the Sunday evening sessions (7 p.m.) remain an in-your-face spectacle. You’ll find the Tuesday evenings at Trace (3714 N. Clark St.; 773-477-3400) to be on the mellower side. It’s situated a half block from Wrigley Field and sharing space with a bar that often draws a (drunken) Cubs crowd. Take the stairs to the second floor, where you’ll find a candlelit room that’s more art gallery than bar and, most important, a true poetry scene, with local poets and poetry fans who encourage their own and welcome newcomers.

>> Your brew means everything. Where do the bartenders discuss beer the way a sommelier might describe wine?
The original Goose Island Brewpub (1800 N. Clybourn Ave.; 312-915-0071) reigns as the city’s small-batch brewing pioneer, and we love whiling away the hours in the tidy restaurant/bar with a fresh, craft-brewed Honker’s Ale or Kölsch. But the Goose serves only its own dozen or so brews. For greater variety, head to the Hopleaf Bar (5148 N. Clark St.; 773-334-9851), which typically offers 200 beers, many from brewing’s Valhalla: Belgium. The Hopleaf keeps special glasses for certain pours, doesn’t stock lite beer, and encourages conversation (there’s no TV or loud music). In Bucktown, The Map Room (1949 N. Hoyne Ave.; 773-252-7636) is a homey, travel-themed bar that aims to be more universal with its beer selection. But that doesn’t mean just any draft makes the cut. Owners Laura and Mark Blasingame have impeccable standards and train their staff accordingly. If you get lost in the menu, don’t be afraid to ask questions.

>> You like the idea of scantily clad servers, but you don’t go in for the franchise ambiance of Hooters.
At Crabbby Kim’s Bikini Bar (3655 N. Western Ave.; 773-404-8156), the bartenders wear bikinis, often under the glow of a black light. For the record: food is served, and the TVs are as good as those in any sports bar. But do you really think the guys show up for the game?

>> You prefer a brilliant Guinness.
Stout purists can tell just by looking whether their pint has been poured properly (the foam should crest just above the rim and stay there until interrupted by the first sip), and once they find a spot that gets it right, they stick with it. Tommy Nevin’s Pub in Evanston (1450 Sherman Ave.; 847-869-0450) is that kind of place, a handsome Irish bar where bartenders labor over their pours-it’s not uncommon to see a half-dozen pints lined up near the tap, each in various stages of readiness to be served.

>> You want to hook up tonight. Where are the pickings . . . easy?
If you’re looking for some comfort after a long night-and we’re not talking about the bar food-make Burton Place (1447 N. Wells St.; 312-664-4699) your final stop before home. This late-night orgy of a drinking fest often gets so crowded with tipsy and social 20- and 30-somethings, the second and third floors have to be opened up to accommodate them. Where you end up later is anybody’s guess, but chances are you won’t be leaving alone.

>> Does every Wrigleyville bar have a Mark Prior jersey? Or does it just feel that way after
a few beers?

Either way, GingerMan Tavern (3740 N. Clark St.; 773-549-2050) is your respite. This comfortable neighborhood tavern benefits from the widely different reasons people stop in. Regulars may mix with fans of that French punk band playing at Metro and the tourists still standing after a Cubs game. With plenty of well-worn tables and creaky chairs, there’s usually room for everyone.

The scene at Sonotheque, an acoustically stellar mecca for DJs on the rise

>> You love live music, and appreciate a little TLC.
The Empty Bottle
(1035 N. Western Ave.; 773-276-3600) is among the city’s best venues for authentic, interesting, and intimate live music. The place also cares: “Ear plugs $1,” says a handwritten sign above the cash register of the bar. “You’re not too old, it’s too loud. Respect your ears.”

>> You want to celebrate the latest White Sox victory. Where’s a good spot near the Cell?
There are plenty of South Side gems such as Schaller’s Pump (3714 S. Halsted St.; 773-376-6332), where stopping by for a beer is a tradition that spans generations. But that’s also why they can get so crowded-and why the family-owned Cobblestones Bar & Grill (514 W. Pershing Rd.; 773-624-3630) is our pick. Open since 1990, it’s a relative newcomer on the Bridgeport scene and far enough from the park that it doesn’t get raucous crowds on game days. Leave time for the food, especially the muffalettas with homemade “gardinere.”

>> You want to throw a bachelor party in the privacy of a public house.
Guys, if you insist on going public with your sordid celebration, it’s best to keep it out of sight and out of mind for the rest of us. Lotties (1925 W. Cortland St.; 773-489-0738) and Sedgwick’s (1935 N. Sedgwick St.; 312-337-7900) both have well-insulated, below-street-level party rooms that, they promise, are extremely “private.” Lotties seems especially appropriate for the evening because in a former life it was a gambling hall and house of ill repute-or so it’s said.

>> You’re surrounded by the college bar craziness of Lincoln Avenue. Is there a no-nonsense neighborhood tavern along this strip?
“No Corona, No Foolish Drinks, and Limited Dancing,” reads a sign in the window of Sterch’s (2238 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-281-2653). The foolish drinks ban, says a bartender, pertains to anything made with a blender, because the bar has never had one. Regulars claim the barstools on most evenings, but they take pride in welcoming newcomers.

>> You want to sink your friend’s battleship while enjoying a pint.
Old-fashioned games deserve an old-fashioned setting. With its lamp-lit tables and cottage décor, Guthrie’s Tavern (1300 W. Addison St.; 773-477-2900) feels like the enclosed porch of a country cabin. Relaxing as the vibe is, the only stress is in securing your favorite game on a busy night.

>> You long to hear that wonderful old sound: shhhhh . . . ka-chunk.
Shuffleboard consoles once shared barroom space with pinball machines and foosball tables. Now they’re about as popular as those awful, long-gone wine coolers, replaced by video games. That’s a shame, because shuffleboard is that rare bar game that can be fun to play for hours. The handsome Bucktown Pub (1658 W. Cortland St.; 773-394-9898), a classic corner tap with a roomy patio, keeps its machine a few steps from the free popcorn machine.

>> You hanker for a down-home evening.
Even in the big city, it’s possible to walk into a low-slung country bar and find a great band, cheap drinks, and a fun-loving crowd. Every Tuesday night at The Hideout (1354 W. Wabansia Ave.; 773-227-4433), a band called Devil in a Woodpile plays acoustic blues, jug tunes, and ragtime in a corner of the bar, sans stage, sometimes bumping elbows with dancing fans. The band does without mics or amps and passes the hat for tips. Note for the uninitiated: The Hideout is “locationally challenged,” a few blocks off North Avenue right between train tracks and massive sheds for the city’s Department of Fleet Management. But that’s part of the charm.


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