Healthy Travel Tips »
Healthy Travel Tips » Stay safe on vacation
8 Chicago Bars Locals Love
From neighborhood taverns to swank rooftop bars, toast to good times at these Chicago favorites.
Check out some of the best drink spots in the Windy City.(Getty Images)
Talking about the best bars in any big city is a lot like discussing sports team loyalties and politics: It can get emotional. This is especially true in Chicago, which is home to a wide variety of watering holes serving everything from foamy brews to craft cocktails.
To help you find the perfect place to wet your whistle, U.S. News asked Chicago hotel concierges to weigh in on where Chicagoans go – and where visitors are welcome – for drinks and old-school social engagement. Take a stool next to a local at these cool Chicago bars.
The J. Parker
The J. Parker in Chicago.(Courtesy of Eric Kleinberg)
To unwind, Lincoln Park residents pick the J. Parker bar atop the neighborhood's boutique Hotel Lincoln. "The cozy, nontouristy rooftop bar offers unobstructed views of Lincoln Park, the Farm-in-the-Zoo [at Lincoln Park Zoo] and Lake Michigan," says Bernard Runo, concierge supervisor at the Sofitel Chicago Magnificent Mile.
Amid overflowing flower pots and leafy trellises, comfortable couches and tables dot the intimate, year-round patio bar sheltered by a retractable glass roof. There's also an indoor, contemporary cocktail lounge.
[Read: The Best Chicago Segway Tours.]
Jake Melnick's Corner Tap
Chicagoans' opinions about sports bars are as numerous as the city's championship titles. But for visitors downtown, concierge Ben Nelson at the Chicago Athletic Association hotel says, "To watch any game, Jake's is a fun mix of sports and dive bar serving good drinks in a relaxed, local environment. And they have the city's best wings."
Big TVs and dozens of beers, ciders and cocktails attract regulars to Jake Melnick's after work and on game days. Craft beers on tap change daily at the basic tavern off North Michigan Avenue. Enormous greasy goodness and fried-to-perfection pub grub satisfy.
Green Mill Cocktail Lounge
Notorious bootlegging gangster Al Capone banged back booze at this Uptown speakeasy. Opened in 1907, the jazz club features original velvet banquettes, a mirrored bar, art deco light fixtures and bucolic landscape murals that make it a favorite Hollywood film location.
Storied musicians Billie Holiday, Tommy Dorsey, Joe E. Lewis and Frank Sinatra performed at the Green Mill. Today, Kurt Elling, Patricia Barber, Fareed Haque and Frank Catalano book gigs. Nightly jazz sessions and Sunday's funky Uptown Poetry Slam pack the shoebox-sized club. Serious music-loving regulars drinking Schlitz and top-shelf martinis vehemently shush talkers during performances. "For the main act, always arrive early, and don't leave your table because none are reserved," says Mark Roberts, concierge at the Thompson Chicago.
The Hideout in Chicago.(Courtesy of Allison Taich)
The rickety wooden house wedged between gritty factory warehouses on Chicago's West Side has been slinging drinks since the 1890s. The bootlegger-and-bookie-run speakeasy legally opened in 1934, and still reigns as a top juke joint catering to an unpretentious crowd chatting over cold ones at the shabby bar (check out the beer can collection).
Every night in the retro backroom, Chinook Lounge, listen to local cover bands and occasional theatrical performances and poetry slams (reasonable cover charged). At DJ dance parties, patrons rock out on the sticky, checkered linoleum floor under the glassy-eyed gaze of a mounted Hemingway-size sailfish.
There's no food served at the Hideout, so order in or bring your own. Parking is plentiful, though cabs are few.
[Read: The Best Chicago Tours.]
Cindy's in Chicago.(Courtesy of Chicago Athletic Association Hotel)
Opened for Chicago's 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, the recently restored Chicago Athletic Association's new rooftop bar reflects the landmark's historic architecture. "The outdoor terrace has one of the city's best views of lakefront Millennium and Grant parks," says The Langham, Chicago's head concierge Victor Colon.
Cindy's guests relax around outside fire pits or inside at polished thick-plank picnic benches under the trussed-arch glass roof. Choices of innovative, seasonal dishes and cocktails, wines and spirits are as varied and vast as the views.
[Read: The Best Cheap Hotels in Chicago.]
When it comes to cocktails, Onal Kucuk, general manager at Hotel Lincoln, seeks establishments known for fine behind-the-bar craftsmanship. "Cocktails are a liquid art form creatively combining different tastes, and I come here for that," he says. "I like my Manhattan, Negroni, Sazerac, gin gimlet, old fashioned and sometimes a single malt."
The new, feels-like-old speakeasy in Fulton Market District has quickly become a local hot spot to meet friends and bring dates to sip straight up, neat or on-the-rocks classic cocktails. Patrons line up outside Moneygun waiting to sit at the semicircle bar and snuggle into dimly lit booths. Interesting bar bites ride shotgun to international wine and craft beer menus and throwback cocktail choices illustrated on the mirrored wall (just picture a Pink Squirrel and Bee's Knees).
This massive mashup of all things party in the South Loop promises to keep you rocking all night long. Tim Batchelder, head concierge at The Talbott Hotel, says, "The entertainment complex in an old tire factory is a bar, live music venue, casual restaurant, shop and year-round rooftop deck."
Surrounded by graffiti art murals, indie cover bands perform on Reggies' Rock Club stage and in bar-restaurant Reggies' Music Joint, where bartenders pour more than 70 beers. You can watch any game on 17 TVs and eat smoky barbecue. Record store Record Breakers sells collectible, new and used vinyl records, and cool music memorabilia.
[Read: The Best Chicago Boat Tours.]
Avondale's corner watering hole is like a time warp into a 1950s Chicago bungalow's basement Tiki bar. Swig locally crafted beers, sip umbrella drinks (try the Dirty Girl, like an alcohol-infused root beer float) and nosh on comfort food (bacon mac 'n' cheese and half-pound burgers) at down-to-earth prices. Punk, surf, swing and rockabilly music infuses the funky, red light-washed Bali Ha'i-style bar. In winter, the Orbit Room's large patio becomes a tented, tropical smoking tent occupied by hula girl statues and gaping-mouthed masks.
To experience more of what Chicago has to offer, check out the U.S. News Travel guide.
If you make a purchase from our site, we may earn a commission. This does not affect the quality or independence of our editorial content.