Maria’s represents the idealized vision of everything we look for in a bar. Except it’s real. Above all else, it is an only-in-Chicago kind of place: a slashie with both substance and soul, a family business with cosmopolitan flair, a neighborhood stalwart that’s a haven for beer geeks, a place where you can drink solo or with your squad and always feel completely at home.
The Marszewski clan has manned this Bridgeport spot for 30 years now. For most of that time, matriarch Maria ran the bar and liquor store hybrid that occupied the storefront. In 2010, she let her sons, Mike and Ed, take over. They redesigned the space, naming the new operation after their mom, who continues to work the register up front. You can still walk out of the packaged goods part with a six-pack of Old Style, but these days the cases are also stocked with Chicago craft brews, large-format Belgian ales, and all manner of drinkable pleasures, both familiar and obscure.
The real magic happens when you slip through the door in the back of the shop and enter the bar: a comfortably lived-in space at the cozy intersection of vintage (pressed-tin ceilings) and kitsch (beer bottle chandeliers). Since we last ranked the city’s best bars in 2013, Maria’s (which came in at No. 4) has expanded, adding an airy annex and a patio with lots of tables for a more convivial, if less intimate, style of drinking. At the front of the addition, there’s now a Korean Polish fusion food counter called Kimski, which, with its scallion pancakes and sausages, is a nod to the Marszewskis’ blended ethnic heritage.
The most exceptional parts of Maria’s remain unchanged. From the bar’s impressive 42 taps flows everything from Schlitz to offbeat local offerings like One Trick Pony’s black IPA or the Nigerian lager from Marz Community Brewing Co., an offshoot of Maria’s. The cocktails, many of them made with a sweet-tart ginger beer brewed exclusively for the bar by local soda company Filbert’s, range from esoteric to crowd pleasing. And they are served with a side of chitchat that’s effervescent but never too much.
Maria’s, in short, is a bar for all of us, and as close as you can get to perfect.
Who’s there:A mix of Chicagoans, from fixie-riding hipsters to third-generation Bridgeporters
What to order:Marz Jungle Boogie wheat ale ($7)