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Scenes from some of our top bars and clubs

These spots merit some hang time even if you don't stay for the food

Bars we're thirsting for at presstime, either yet to open or too new to review

Best spots for $2 Guinness pints, judgment-free dancing, White Sox sightings, and more

This quaint spot—named the best small brewpub at the 2006 Great American Beer Festival—is housed in a 90-year-old train station, allowing Metra riders to spill straight from the train into the bar. With award-winning beers brewed on-site (we like the seasonal White Lady Imperial Wit), a pages-long food menu, and friendly service, it’s worth a visit, even if it means an extra commute. 1035 Sterling Ave., Flossmoor; 708-957-2739, food available | outdoor seating


The owner, Phil Cullen, did his homework, photographing pubs all over Ireland to get the proper look for his Downers Grove tavern (a second location is in Aurora, and a third was set to open in January in Bloomingdale), right down to the four fireplaces, antiques, and rickety chairs and tables. Six of the 19 beers on tap are Irish, and this is the only place in the country you can get a McCaffery’s Irish Cream Ale from Chicago’s Argus Brewery. 5157 Main St., Downers Grove, 630-969-0600; 28 W. New York St., Aurora, 630-844-0400; food available | cover charge | live music   

Since opening last fall, this 13,000-square-foot outpost of a national chain has drawn an enthusiastic crowd of cougars, college kids, and business types for its generous pours and upscale ambiance. The tall mahogany booths—with individual flat-screen TVs—offer seclusion, and weekend DJs blast tunes by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Lady Gaga. Two bars on the main floor keep service smooth even when the place is packed. A polished addition to downtown Naperville. 16 W. Jefferson Ave., Naperville; 630-717-0400, food available | outdoor seating | live music

Housed in a former four-screen movie theatre, this sports lover’s mecca in Aurora boasts a jaw-dropping back wall covered in 12- and 15-foot TV screens, plus smaller TVs at individual tables. If playing, not watching, is your thing, choose from darts, shuffleboard, pool tables, beanbags, and sand volleyball. If you’re a smoker, check out the tobacco shop, where you can buy cigars and smoke them inside—legally. 85 Executive Dr., Aurora; 630-978-2088, food available | outdoor seating | live music

Sure, the Polynesian kitsch is timeworn, but somehow the mix of wooden carvings, beaded curtains, fake fruit, and Don Ho tunes just works. Consider this River Grove tiki lounge a perfect winter getaway for a taste of the tropics: Try a planter’s punch, a zombie, or any of the more than 100 other exotic cocktails. In summer, relax in a courtyard complete with bamboo huts and a fountain. 2834 River Rd., River Grove; 708-456-3222, outdoor seating

Despite the blue-collar vibe, don’t bother ordering a PBR at this Villa Park microbrewery, where moons and stars dangle above a twenties-era back bar. Lunar offers 17 beers on tap—eight brewed on the premises. The brewmaster, Jimmy “Dr. Delicious” Filisko, concocts about 30 recipes throughout the year, but the IPA, stout, and cream ale are always available. Check the chalkboard for seasonal bottled brews, stored in the bar’s wooden coolers. 54 E. St. Charles Rd., Villa Park; 630-530-2077, food available | live music (Sat.)

This La Grange spot may look generic, but a substantial beer list curated by the owners, Steve and Phil Palmer, sets it apart, with 36 brews on tap and another 300 bottled varieties organized by country behind the bar. A three-level beer garden out back holds 260, but snag a stool at the ten-seat bar to talk beer with the friendly staff. 56 S. La Grange Rd., La Grange; 708-482-7127, food available | outdoor seating | live music (occasionally)

Located in a historic farmhouse, this Oak Brook watering hole has been around for more than 50 years—and has the stories to prove it (Vincent Price and Shelley Winters reportedly drank here). Inside are neon beer signs, dark wood, and remnants of the original brick walls from the 1840s. With a capacity of only 65, the bar can feel cramped, but reasonable prices, a friendly crowd, and house-made pizza compensate amply. 3702 York Rd., Oak Brook; 630-323-5090 food available


Locals love Libertyville’s überpopular brewpub Mickey Finn’s, but when we get tired of angling for a seat there, we head to this gem just a block or so away. The vintage knickknacks and year-round Christmas lights give the cozy tap character, but the big attraction is a constantly evolving roundup of imported beers and Midwestern microbrews—Stevens Point, Dark Horse, Surly—with 28 on draft and more than 50 by the bottle. And then there’s the spirits list: some 50 vodkas, 18 gins, and two dozen tequilas. For a posher vibe, go next door to the owners’ Tavern Lounge. 515 N. Milwaukee Ave., Libertyville; 847-367-6168, food available | live music (Tues., Thurs.)

This Glenview tavern started selling beers and burgers for a few cents each in the 1920s, and other than the prices, not much has changed. The original bar still stands, and some bottles look as if they haven’t been touched since Prohibition. But that’s the charm. The staff is friendly, and the beer is cold. Bring cash—credit cards are not accepted—for a mug of DAB German lager and a side of Tater Tots. 235 E. Lake Ave., Glenview; 847-724-0477, food available