You don’t need me to tell you that here in Chicago, we like to drink. Supposedly we drink double the beer and whiskey than the rest of the country and 17% of the population are binge drinkers. That isn’t difficult considering on just one street you can drink at a different bar every night for seven months without repeating where. (Clark Street has 203 bars on a 12-mile stretch.)
That’s great and all, but how do you decide where to drink with so many choices? It’s a decision that plagues me weekly… ok, on some weeks, even daily. But fear not, I’m here to help you decide where to drink in Chicago based on your favorite drink, or if that doesn’t matter, where to drink for a good view or experience.
Best bars in Chicago based on your favorite drink
Find your drink, then find your bar. Ready… set… cheers!
Where to Drink Whiskey in Chicago
Whiskey, whisky… it doesn’t matter how you spell it as long as it’s aged and brown (the silver stuff doesn’t count in my book). The best whiskey bar in Chicago is hands-down Untitled in River North, thanks to their whiskey library of over 500 whiskeys. The massive bar manages to have a speakeasy-like feel to it, Michelin-approved food, live music and burlesque on Thursdays.
Runners Up for Best Whiskey Bar in Chicago:
Delilah’s has around 800 whiskeys from around the world, including 14 custom bottles. Supposedly half their selection isn’t available on the general market. Bonus: the Lincoln Park bar is open 365 days a year. Or head to Logan Square’s Longman & Eagle for its Michelin-starred food and nearly 400 bottles of whiskey, some as cheap as $3! Slightly Toasted, in the West Loop, has plenty of whiskey with pastries (yes please!). And even though Big Star in Wicker Park is known for tacos, they have an impressive whiskey selection.
Where to Drink Gin in Chicago
I admit I often forget about gin until it’s summer and even then it’s an afterthought. But it’s hard not to ignore the clear spirit at Scofflaw in Logan Square, with their array of small batch gin and their truly unique gin cocktails. With more than 100 gins, they clock in at one of the best gin bars in the country. I also fell in love with the neighborhood atmosphere full of fellow day-drinkers, and their fried chicken sandwich wasn’t bad either.
Runners Up for Best Gin Bar in Chicago:
The Renaissance Hotel’s Raised rooftop bar in River North is mixing up some creative libations, but their gin-based creations are especially noteworthy. The Barrelhouse Flat, another notorious whiskey bar in Lincoln Park, actually mixes up some decent gin cocktails.
Where to Drink Rum in Chicago
The creative Tiki-style concoctions at Three Dots and a Dash may have put the River North bar on the World’s 50 Best Bar list, but if you’re looking for rum, this is the place to go. They showcase an impressive list (almost 150 deep) of rums from around the world, making them one of the best rum bars in Chicago. The only downside to ordering rum neat is there’s no possibility of a back scratcher garnish. (Yes, that’s a thing here!)
Runners Up for Best Rum Bars in Chicago:
Lost Lake, opened by a former Three Dots mixologist in Logan Square, boasts 275 bottles of rum and plenty of creative cocktails. For rum flights, Paladar serves them (with 60 types of rum) alongside Cuban food in Buck Town.
Where to Drink Beer in Chicago
The specialty at Howells & Hood is instantly recognizable: 120 beer taps line the length of this giant sports bar and their beer list is a several-page novel. The second focus is also immediately obvious — there are TVs in every direction you look, making Howells & Hood one of the best sports bars in River North. They even have TVs (and a bar) outside on their Michigan Ave patio.
Runners Up for Best Beer Bar in Chicago:
River North’s Centennial has a hearty selection of brewskies in a trendy setting but their real standout is their Eastern European food that pairs perfectly alongside a Pilsner (or whatever specialty beer they happen to be slinging that day). Or hit West Loop’s Haymarket Brewery for house-made beers, available in build-your-own flights.
Where to Drink Cocktails in Chicago
Mixology has taken over Chicago (and the rest of the world) with good reason: creative cocktails are just more fun to drink. Chicago is at the forefront of the craft cocktail world, so there’s no shortage of places with mind-blowing cocktails here, but Arbella created what might be the best cocktail I’ve ever had in my life. And trust me, that’s beating out a lot of drinks! The Chicago Fire Extinguisher ($15) — with scotch, Luxardo Abano and smoked Angostura bitters — was a smoky glass of wonderment that made for an awesome instagram.
Runners Up for Best Cocktail Bar in Chicago:
Like I said, Chicago has more than enough places slinging creative concoctions. Some of my favorites are Cindy’s (Loop), which also has one of the best rooftop views in the city; Berkshire Room (River North), try the bartender’s roulette; Drumbar (Streeterviille), the cocktails around the world are reason enough to go; Violet Hour (Wicker Park)… the list goes on.
Where to Drink Molecular Gastronomy Cocktails in Chicago
Molecular gastronomy is kind of our thing in Chicago thanks to that whole Aviary/Next thing so it was only a matter of time before Grant Achatz opened a bar focused on outrageous cocktails. The Aviary in the West Loop is unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been, which is really no surprise. (Bonus: there’s a speakeasy underneath.) The menu is broken down by experience and participation and they have an actual ice chef that makes 35 different kinds of ice. Seriously. Be prepared to pay a pretty penny for your drinks but at least they will be worth it.
Runners Up for Best Molecular Gastronomy Bars in Chicago:
Baptiste and Bottle at The Conrad Hotel in Streeterville has a few exciting tricks up its sleeve, most notably the The Curtsy and a Bow. If that doesn’t do it for you, The Sixth (Lincoln Square) has some mixology-focused drinks that won’t steer you wrong.
Where to Drink Wine in Chicago
Chicago is overflowing with places with outstanding wine lists. Even some restaurants easily beat out some “wine bars” with their eclectic and extensive lists. But Logan Square’s Webster’s Wine Bar wins here for having so many bottles of vino available by the glass and by the taste. Because when there’s 400 wines to choose from, taste-testing beforehand is important!
Runners Up for Best Wine Bar in Chicago:
Edgewater’s Income Tax might be a restaurant, but it puts most wine bars to shame with their lengthy list of vinos. City Winery (West Loop) has an impressive list, too. Even though River North’s Pops for Champagne is known for their bubbly (they carry more than 150 types of sparkling wine but they are pricy) the non-fizzy stuff hovers around $13/glass and bottles around $50. With live jazz Sunday through Tuesday and a beer-based speakeasy beneath, it sounds like a catch to me.
Where to Drink Tequila in Chicago
Hidden underneath the trendy Mexican spot Mercadito in River North is La Mez Agave Lounge. The place might be tiny, but it packs a mean punch with nearly 80 tequilas and mezcals, plus the usual beer, wine and cocktail list. It has a definite River North vibe, but the range of tequilas will make you forget about that pretty quickly.
Runners Up for Best Tequila Bar in Chicago:
Bar Takito (West Loop) may not have the most tequilas in Chicago, but they have margarita flights and that in itself is awesome. Rick Bayless’ notorious River North Mexican restaurant, Frontera Grill, has more than 100 tequilas, while Masa Azul in Logan Square has some interesting small batch tequilas and mezcals.
Where to Drink in Chicago for the Best View
Sometimes it’s less about the liquor and more about the view. For those days, you can’t beat the rooftop at London House, with the perfect view of the Chicago River in River North. The cocktails are more than worth it and the food is worth trying, too.
Runners Up for Best Bar with a View in Chicago:
Cindy’s, at the Athletic Association Hotel in the Loop, has a great view of Lake Michigan and equally impressive cocktails. There is also an indoor portion for when it rains out of nowhere. I|O Godfrey, while not on a rooftop, offers an indoor/outdoor view of downtown Chicago from its 4th floor patio and color-changing cocktails.
Where to Drink in Chicago with a Side of Good Food
Man cannot live on alcohol alone. If you want to preempt the late night food run, combine your drinks with food worth eating at Table, Donkey & Stick. It’s quickly becoming one of my favorite restaurants in Chicago thanks to their duck liver mousse. The Logan Square gem makes great cocktails only surpassed by their incredible food, plus they have absinthe flights!
Runners Up for Best Restaurant Bars in Chicago:
Bottlefork in River North has excellent cocktails, upscale bar food (try the giant Tater Tots) and the best happy hour in the city. In the West Loop, Bad Hunter’s drink menu (both wines and cocktails) outshines nearby wine bars, plus their food is good enough to turn me vegetarian. Untitled has outstanding food recognized with a well-deserved Bib Gourmand and Stout’s food (especially the poutine) instantly transported me to food coma heaven (both in River North).
Hey, you skipped vodka!
Yes, yes I did. If vodka is your drink of choice, admit it: you don’t give a shit where you drink or what form it arrives in. I’m sure any of the aforementioned bars will mix you up something nice and boring utilizing vodka. :) …Ok fine, both Raised and Noyane in River North have good vodka-based drinks and (bonus points) pretty rooftop views. Noyane’s even serves Japanese food.
Since everyone’s favorite pastime in Chicago besides drinking is arguing opinions, please feel free to share your favorite bars for your favorite drinks in the comments. I promise to research them all accordingly!