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.
Delilah’s (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?
Transit (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.
|The Green Mill in Uptown, a jazz landmark celebrating 20 years
of poetry slams.
>> You rank The Big Lebowski among the greatest movies of all time. Is there an alley where “Dude” would feel at home?
Upscale bowlers get lots of love these days. The arrival of Lucky Strike Lanes (322 E. Illinois St.; 312-245-8331) and 10 Pin Bowling Lounge (330 N. State St.; 312-644-0300) means that bowling is now included in swanky date nights or evenings with clients. But isn’t it a bit weird to see a bowling alley accessorized with a wine bar and fireplaces? For the bowler who prefers Miller High Life to Red Bull, there’s Lincoln Square Lanes (4874 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-561-8191). This barebones, workingman’s bowl and bar is situated above a hardware store, and has the dust, dirt, and battle scars to be a Chicago classic.
>> It’s a beautiful evening, and you want to enjoy your cocktails outdoors. Options?
[Bucktown] You can sit along the sidewalk outside Iggy’s (1840 W. North Ave.; 773-227-4449) and inhale the fumes of the revving motorcycles out front. But it’s better to head upstairs for a more serene rooftop complete with full-service bar and cabana booths that hold eight and curtain off for privacy. There’s a minimum tab for the booths, but it’s easily attainable if everyone orders dinner and drinks.
[River North] Citizen Bar (364 W. Erie St.; 312-640-1156) showed up out of nowhere in May, but the party posse can smell a good outdoor bash. It has two spacious patios-bigger than the bar inside-but the huge rooftop is where you’ll find most of the young revelers and a bustling pickup scene.
[Old Town] There may be no better spot in Old Town for summertime people watching than O’Brien’s (1528 N. Wells St.; 312-787-3131), with its teak patio furniture and center gazebo bar. We like the combination of young couples and 30-something singles that mix and mingle here. Dogs are welcome too-just park it with your pooch at one of the sidewalk tables.
[Edgewater] Moody’s Pub (5910 N. Broadway Ave.; 773-275-2696) is already well known for its burgers, but the Edgewater locale also deserves credit for a beer garden that feels truly tucked away. Towering trees block out the harsh city light, water trickles from a fountain in the background, and ivy covers the walls.
[Lake View] Jack’s Bar and Grill / 404 Wine Bar (2856 N. Southport Ave.; 773-404-8400). Big as it is, the shared patio of these two Lake View mainstays is as intimate and tranquil as a neighbor’s yard. Here you can plant yourself for an entire evening, thanks to a menu with options like baked Brie or a teriyaki chicken sandwich with pineapple and Havarti cheese. Farther west is Chief O’Neill’s Pub (3471 N. Elston Ave.; 773-473-5263), an almost pastoral beer garden that will surprise even veteran outdoor drinkers, especially considering its location on an unremarkable stretch of Elston Avenue. Walk through the handsome Irish bar and restaurant and you’ll find a wood deck and a lawn large enough for pickup football (were it not for the trees and flowers).
[South Side] Cork & Kerry (10614 S. Western Ave.; 773-445-2675). During the chilly months, Cork & Kerry is a classic Irish bar with loyal customers and bartenders who take pride in pouring a proper Guinness-the kind of place where the barstools are filled by 6 p.m. on a weekday. In the summer, this mainstay opens its 200-seat beer garden, a multilevel deck dotted with trees, flowers, and outdoor furniture.
>> Dilemma: It’s gorgeous outside, but your buddies want to watch the big game on TV.
Long known for its barbecue, The Fireplace Inn (1448 N. Wells St.; 312-943-7427) also has a giant patio with over a dozen TVs and a retractable roof. Translation: TV in the great urban outdoors, rain or shine.
|Serving them up at Stanley’s, scene of live-band karaoke on Sunday nights|
>> You want more from your gay bar.
Kathie Bergquist and Robert McDonald, authors of the recently released A Field Guide to Gay & Lesbian Chicago, offer up a few of their favorite spots. When Bergquist wants “cool and swank,” she heads to Joie de Vine (1744 W. Balmoral Ave.; 773-989-6846), a modern wine bar that can be a go-to for date night. At the other end of the spectrum is Lost & Found (3058 W. Irving Park Rd.; 773-463-7599), a mellow lesbian bar with an older crowd. “It’s like walking back in time,” Bergquist says. The bar keeps its door locked and buzzes in customers, just as it did decades ago, when lesbians feared persecution or police raids. McDonald likes Big Chicks (5024 N. Sheridan Rd.; 773-728-5511), the welcoming, colorful Uptown bar that draws a gay and straight crowd for its food and eclectic art. Both authors tout The Jeffery Pub (7041 S. Jeffery Blvd.; 773-363-8555), a South Side landmark for Chicago’s African American gay community since the sixties. Andersonville is filled with popular gay hangouts, but both writers like to send people to T’s Bar and Restaurant (5025 N. Clark St.; 773-784-6000), “one of those great bars where everyone from the neighborhood likes to go and where straight people can feel at home,” McDonald says.
>> You want a place that doesn’t give a flip-and pulls it off beautifully.
In a city where too many bars go for niche-sporty, hipster, Irish-the Hungry Brain (2319 W. Belmont Ave.; 773-935-2118) happily defies logic. It opens at 8 p.m., but the house rule is to keep the door locked until the first customer arrives. “Sometimes that means we don’t open at all,” admits the bartender. The place typically gets crowded around 10 p.m., and the laissez-faire attitude holds sway at any hour. Inside, past a stage used for Sunday night jazz shows, you’ll feel like you’re in your wacky grandmother’s cozy basement. The taps are vintage, salvaged from a defunct tavern nearby; the furniture is from alleys and resale shops; and some ashtrays are as large as dinner plates. “A homeless man came in here once,” the same bartender proudly declares, “and he said this place looks like a junkyard exploded.” Amen to that.
>> Irish kitsch can get a little stale. Where is there an authentic Irish pub?
Some Irish bars beat their patrons over the head with a shtick: shamrocks, leprechauns, and Guinness posters run rampant. Three years ago, when co-owners Malcolm Molloy and Billy Lawless opened The Grafton (4530 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-271-9000), their mission was to do their Irish homeland proud. They named the bar after the renowned street in Dublin, banned Irish bric-a-brac, and created one of the classiest neighborhood bars on the North Side. The burgers and properly poured stout get high marks, too.
>> You have a taste for something below haute cuisine but above basic pub grub.
One of the best trends in nightlife nowadays is the “gastro bar,” the fancy name for taverns that serve ambitious food. The Local Option (1102 W. Webster Ave.; 773-435-3136) goes several steps beyond basic with its New Orleans–inspired but eclectic menu (from po’ boys and potato salad to guacamole and fish tacos). This recently remodeled spot has plenty of booths and restaurant-style seating, but it retains the casual neighborhood/college bar vibe, meaning you’ll still spot a few DePaul students doing shots of Jägermeister.
Bucktown’s Silver Cloud (1700 N. Damen Ave.; 773-489-6212) serves well-prepared comfort food like chicken pot pie, meat loaf, chicken soup, and sloppy joes with tater tots. The bar’s retro diner vibe adds to the old-fashioned hominess.
We already knew the skillet cookie at Gaslight Bar & Grille (2426 N. Racine Ave.; 773-929-7759) had its own cult following, but this comfortable neighborhood bar offers other delights, too. Tender chicken wings come with a choice of seven sauces, and they make a great topper on those larger-than-life salads. But our favorite dish is the appetizer of crispy Reuben rolls, fried in a won ton casing.
|Haven help us: The handsome Irish bar Chief O’Neill’s Pub boasts an expansive,
almost pastoral beer garden.
>> You want a swanky place to lounge all night.
A late-20s crowd has made the Fulton Lounge (955 W. Fulton Market; 312-942-9500) its West Loop drinking destination since it opened in 2002. But even when this meatpacking district hot spot fills to capacity after 11 on a Friday or Saturday night, the 13-foot ceilings make the exposed industrial loft space feel as roomy as a friend’s newly converted warehouse condo. We like warm touches such as a crackling fireplace in winter, brick walls, shag carpeting, and comfy contemporary sofas and chairs. And we love the cocktail list, with its martini flights and “vintage” drinks like Manhattans and Negronis.
>> You love Rainbo Club in Ukrainian Village, but miss the gritty spirit that first drew you.
The venerable Rainbo club (1150 N. Damen Ave.; 773-489-5999) is still fighting to remain true to its roots as a neighborhood bar for artists and everyday folk, but gentrification has made that a challenge-on weekends it may feel like a watering hole for frat boys or tidy couples on their way to dinner. When Rainbo’s co-owners, Jim Garbe and Dee Taira, opened The Skylark ( 2149 S. Halsted St.; 312-948-5275) three years ago, its Pilsen neighborhood reminded them of Ukrainian Village, circa 1985. “People are still discovering the bar and the neighborhood,” says Garbe. “It’s nice to have that feeling again-of people popping into a bar and having no idea what they’re getting into.” Skylark is a roomy, dimly lit affair that is home base for South Side artists, musicians, a few Sox fans, and soon-to-be young professionals. Don’t miss the big, old-fashioned photo booth just a few steps from the far end of the bar.
>> You’re a blue-state type who’s into biking.
Bars begin simply enough. A guy dreams of opening a place where he’d like to drink. Josh Deth, a bicycle advocate, activist, and former Goose Island brewer, did just that with Handlebar (2311 W. North Ave.; 773-384-9546), where his disparate interests blend quite nicely. Bike messengers, Critical Mass riders, and wonks from the Chicago Bicycling Federation consider the place a second home; beer lovers dig the diverse selection; and the mostly vegetarian fare draws raves.
>> You’d like some gemütlichkeit to wash down with your Bitburger.
Authentic ethnic bars are rare these days, and German bars, a must-do for any true beer lover, seem like a dying breed. The North Center neighborhood is the home of Resi’s Bierstube (2034 W. Irving Park Rd.; 773-472-1749) and Laschet’s Inn (2119 W. Irving Park; 773-478-7915), two of the last true German beerhouses in the city. At Resi’s, enjoy a stein with some schnitzel and, weather permitting, get your taste of Old World Germany in the tidy beer garden.
|Fans listen to Paper Clip Theory at Darkroom, which becomes a Jamaican house party on Thursday nights
with DJ Redlox.
>> There’s extra buzz when a celebrity is in the house. Where do the A-listers party?
Le Passage (937 N. Rush St.; 312-255-0022), a French-influenced subterranean club with gilded pillars and red velvet booths, is still a go-to spot for celebs like Bill Murray, Pharrell Williams, Billy Bush, members of ‘N Sync, Destiny’s Child, Ricky Martin, Keanu Reeves, and Macy Gray. If you’re lucky, you might even catch an impromptu performance from the likes of Tommy Lee or Jamie Foxx.
At Rockit Bar & Grill (22 W. Hubbard St.; 312-645-6000), David Schwimmer, Jeremy Piven, Vince Vaughn, Henry Rollins, Larenz Tate, Billy Corgan, the Black Eyed Peas, Hank Azaria, Ryan Cabrera, and Joe Simpson have frolicked amid the rugged-chic digs conceived by Oprah’s designer-sidekick Nate Berkus. We’ve spotted more than a few of these regulars chowing down on the Rockit burgers and sweet-potato fries or playing a game of eight-ball in the upstairs lounge.
Reserve is also popular with the boldface-name set. (See Reserve: The Guided Tour.)
>> Girls just want to have fun-and maybe go wild. Where can they?
Dancing on bar tops became a cliché around the time Piper Perabo became a household name. Coyote Ugly (316 W. Erie St.; 312-642-2400), the kitschy hick bar concept that inspired the romantic comedy of the same name, established a Chicago outpost in 2003, and gangs of bachelorettes have been trooping there ever since. For a less touristy option, Marc Bortz’s homegrown Hogs and Honeys (1551 N. Sheffield Ave.; 312-377-1733) also encourages girls to shake it high above the groping crowds or ride a jerking mechanical bull.
>> So many nightlife options, so little time. What spot offers a little something for everyone?
Grand Central (950 W. Wrightwood Ave.; 773-832-4000) is a one-stop shop for nightlifers with a case of ADD. You can drink on the cheap (top-shelf cocktails are $6, imported beer $4), eat above-average bar food, and watch the big game on one of the 29 plasma TVs. Live acoustic music is featured Wednesday through Saturday, when cover bands like the Paramours croon your favorite rock ballads. And the whole bar becomes a crowded dance floor when the DJ takes over around 10:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.
>> You’re on the North Shore in search of a lively and sophisticated scene.
The lines of locals and road trippers from the city waiting to get into Miramar (301 Waukegan Ave.; 847-433-1078) prove that restaurateur Gabriel Viti’s Paris-meets-Havana bistro in Highwood is more than just a place to eat. Early in the evening the action centers on the bar; after 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, the eatery morphs into a wilder (and younger) dance club and singles bar.
|Paper Clip Theory at Darkroom|
>> You think you can sing. Where can you belt out your favorite song?
You never know when someone famous is going to show up on Sundays at Stanley’s Kitchen & Tap (1970 N. Lincoln Ave.; 312-642-0007) for live-band karaoke. Musicians like Kid Rock, Billy Corgan, and Michael McDermott have all taken over the stage, and even native wild child Jeremy Piven has gone animal on the drums. But most Sunday nights it’s the regulars who grab the mike and do their best Bon Jovi imitation with the help of a live backing band.
For a less intimidating karaoke scene, Louie’s Pub (1659 W. North Ave.; 773-227-7947) in Wicker Park lets you take that mike wherever you’re comfortable, be it in the middle of the bar or on a barstool surrounded by friends. The whole bar usually chimes in to help you work out that tune by Carole King.
>> You’re a foodie. Is there a place where dining and lounging go hand in hand?
One of the first of the restaurant-lounge hybrids, Bella Lounge (1212 N. State Pkwy.; 312-787-9405) attracts partyers seeking a scene within a scene within yet another scene. Is it a restaurant, a lounge, a club, or all three? It’s a beautiful spot with equally beautiful people who aren’t afraid to flash what the good doctor gave them.
At the upscale sushi restaurant Japonais (600 W. Chicago Ave.; 312-822-9600), the scenesters head straight to the swanky downstairs lounge to sip orchid martinis (and dine) on a veranda overlooking the Chicago River. The scene there percolates till the wee hours.
Tapas restaurants have been popping up all over the city lately, but we love the bustling bar scene at Del Toro (2047 W. Division St.; 773-278-1500). This neo hipster hang in Wicker Park sports red-and-black mosaic tiling on the walls, funky seating along the bar, and a lounge area upfront that teems with trendy types.
Between the Clark and Dearborn Street bridges at river level sits Flatwater (321 N. Clark St.; 312-644-0283), a shiny new gem of a lounge that feels like a small resort-except for your magnificent view of the big city. The food is good and easy-we enjoyed the flight of hot dogs (chili-cheese, Chicago style, and corn dog) paired with a flight of Goose Island beer.
>> You live in the ‘burbs and want a good pub crawl outside the city.
Head to Madison Street in Forest Park, where a string of pubs and sports bars cater to multiple tastes. If you’re young, professional, and beautiful, and don’t mind noise, hit the packed bustle of O’Sullivan’s Public House (7244 Madison St.; 708-366-6667). For grit, draft beer, college-age revelers and those who seek them, there’s Doc Ryan’s (7432 Madison; 708-366-2823), a bustling sports bar where, come nightfall, ESPN commentary is drowned out by party rock. For a tamer pint and fine bowl of stew, join the poets, teachers, and PTA moms-on-the-town at Molly Malones (7652 Madison; 708-366-8073), where a warm interior and attentive bartenders offer a true neighborhood vibe.
>> You don’t like having to trek downtown from the suburbs just to go out.
For sophisticated cool, try Bill’s Blues Bar in Evanston (1029 Davis St.; 847-424-9800), an intimate spot where live bands play everything from 1920s jazz to Chicago blues. The diverse, music-loving crowd isn’t afraid to shake a leg, especially on Wednesdays, when John Nance hosts a steppers bash.
To catch bands on the rise, nibble tasty wings, and choose from more than 60 beers, try Durty Nellies in Palatine (180 N. Smith St.; 847-358-9150), an unpretentious T-shirt-and-jeans spot with a killer sound system. A not-so-painfully hip crowd of 20- and 30-somethings head here to sway to live punk, rock, and pop.
If you don’t mind a little cheese in your dance music, and the occasional 22-year-old who truly believes she’s all that, there’s Famous Freddie’s Roadhouse in Mount Prospect (1799 S. Busse Road; 847-593-2200). The best part of this often swarming den of kitschy décor, plastic cups, and Gen Y smooch-seekers is its split personality on Fridays and Saturdays. While the lower level is dominated by bodies gyrating to a DJ-driven blend of eighties pop, techno, and hip-hop, the upstairs is dedicated to local bands.
One of the city’s best new bars, Wicker Park Tavern keeps the party going
>> You want to dance and you don’t mind paying $20 to get your booty on the floor tonight.
Flamboyant crowds and a thumping beat set the scene inside Crobar (1543 N. Kingsbury St.; 312-266-1900), a multitiered dance hall that has set the standard for megaclubs in Chicago. There are usually topnotch DJs on the bill and the occasional celeb in attendance.
You could easily get lost inside the massive, smoke-filled, maze of Sound-Bar (226 W. Ontario St.; 312-787-4480). House, trance, electro, and hip-hop are piped through a state-of-the-art sound system by big-name DJs such as Paul Oakenfold, Paul Van Dyke, and Sasha.
On Thursdays Enclave (213 W. Institute Pl.; 312-654-0234) fills up with folks lured by nightlife promoter Tony Macey, who hosts some of the most popular club nights in town. The VIP booths are reserved for bottle service; congregating nearby are young gals showing ample flesh.
Even a recent makeover hasn’t slowed things down at Rednofive (440 N. Halsted St.; 312-733-6699), the go-to late-night spot for clubsters who want to continue the partying after other bars have announced last call. Chandeliers, rich fabrics, low lighting, and a live percussionist accompanying the DJ set the anything-goes mood.
>> You like hanging with the hipoisie.
You’ve know you’ve entered a hipster’s paradise when you enter Green Eye Lounge (2403 W. Homer St.; 773-227-8851). Paintings of decapitated heads adorn the walls; a bartender named Turbo claims he used to be a model; and there’s no jukebox, so the staff controls the musical vibe, which meant Billy Dee (who’s played bass for Hank Williams Jr.) the night we went. The small room has about a dozen highboy tables, filled with patrons sipping microbrews like Three Floyds’, Alpha King, and Two Brothers’ French Country Ale.
>> You want to dance-but at a place that’s low-key and neighborhoody.
When you don’t want to navigate the rope line at a hot-right-now club, Betty’s Blue Star Lounge (1600 W. Grand Ave.; 312-243-1699) offers a down-to-earth but rowdy late-night dance party that goes till 4 a.m. (5 a.m. on Saturdays) seven nights a week. The DJ-spun tunes, ranging from hip-hop and house to funk to reggae, are as diverse as the neighborhood crowd that hits the dance floor in back; a live rockabilly band plays during the week.
Subterranean (2011 W. North Ave.; 773-278-6600) is like two clubs in one: upstairs is a live music venue featuring prog, rock, pop, hardcore, metal, blues-and the occasional comic. On the main level, get in on the retro dance-off when DJs mix old-school classics. The small dance floor gets crowded but you can get your freak on anywhere in the lounge.
If you don’t know where to look you can easily miss Liar’s Club (1655 W. Fullerton Ave.; 773-665-1110), a beer trap with a dance party. In the red-carpeted front room, rock memorabilia pays homage to Kiss. Create your own lasting memories in the photo booth, which probably sees more action than your bedroom. Then head to the back to get down to mainstream hits.
1st Photograph: Saverio Truglia Assistant: Alan Rovge Models: Stephanie Cantu/Arlene Wilson And Isaac Metcalf/Ford Chicago Location: Sound-Bar Wardrobe: Dress, Jewelry, And Shoes Neiman Marcus Michigan Ave., Men’s Tuxedo Shirt And Pants Burberry Porsum Styling: Kami Bremyer Assistant: Debora Hollander Second Assistant: Harmony Hauser Hair And Makeup: Susie Lee/Ford Chicago Hair And Makeup Assistant: Judi-Anna Alvarez Tables: Luminaire All other photography by Jerome De Perlinghi