Chicago might be a whiskey city, but there's a new crop of great bars celebrating the virtues of other spirits. Here are some of the best spots for whiskey, gin, tequila, rum, vodka, and more.
'chicago' on Serious Eats
A new sense of saucy irreverence is at play in Chicago—cocktails on tap, in bottles, and dance nights with shots of Old Fashioneds are all fair game. Here's our guide to the best places to drink cocktails in the Windy City right now.
Here are some of the best drinking destinations near major tourist attractions in Chicago. Some are full-on craft cocktail bars, while others might be slightly less obvious spots, like restaurants with great cocktail programs and a cozy spot to sit.
Luckily, Chicago is a great drinking city, and some places are up to the challenge of offering non-alcoholic beverages that won't induce diabetic shock. Whether you are expecting, entertaining a pregnant guest, or simply looking to cut back on your spirit consumption, here are my five favorite options for Chicago drinking without the booze.
The Dawson's drink menu includes 10 cocktails, a 'daily dram' infused in the tall glass column downstairs, and a selection of nonalcoholic sodas created by in-house soda jerk Dalton Finney.
I must say, I have never seen a restaurant that respected wine more than Charlie Trotter's. Many times I experienced the now-legendary adaptations of dishes to the wine on the table. Once I asked Charlie, "Did you really change that dish because I'd ordered (X) wine?" He said, "Of course I did; we do it all the time. What's in the bottle can't be changed, but I can tweak a dish to make the match work perfectly."
BroVo has teamed up with bartenders all over the country to make small batches of customized amari. In Chicago, bartenders Stephen Cole (of Barrelhouse Flat) and Mike Ryan (of Sable) are among the chosen few.
"Punch is a loan word from the Hindi language, from the word meaning five," explains Will Duncan, the beverage manager at Punch House. "Punch is a balance of five flavors; it always balances strong, weak, bitter, sour, and sweet." This is the first of many lessons in history and mixology to be learned at Punch House, Chicago's first punch-focused cocktail bar, owned by the team behind The Empty Bottle and Longman & Eagle.
At The Revel Room in Wicker Park, you'll find cocktails (including a Blood and Sand on tap), more than 30 canned beers, and a hidden back-room library.
"We went on all of these distillery tours, and we got tired of standing around at the end drinking warm spirits out of a plastic pill glass," explained Mark Lucas, co-owner of CH Distillery. That's why he and his partner Tremaine Atkinson have created a space where you can sip fresh spirits, distilled right behind the bar, the way they were meant to be tasted: in cocktails.
Why, in a city so rich with rock-solid corner bars, do I praise the Charleston above all others? So many good small things that add up to something great.
Each of these 5 Chicago wine shops has friendly staff, an atmosphere that isn't too intimidating, and not a whiff of snobbery.
Guests enter Three Dots through a back alley, climb down a dark staircase (with a wall full of skulls staring creepily) and into the tropical basement bar. Half of the menu is made up of classic tiki cocktails, the rest are the creations of Paul McGee, formerly of The Whistler.
Moscow Mules, Southsides, and other cocktails by the bottle from Charles Joly of The Aviary in Chicago.
Chicago is a fantastic city for dive bars. Here's our handy list of 8 great options we recommend.
"This bottle alone costs approximately $600 retail," explained mixer Allie Kim as she handed over a bottle of Maotai. The Chinese government has given it out as a diplomatic gift, while newscaster Dan Rather famously once said it was like drinking "liquid razor blades." At newly opened River North Chinese spot Lao 18, they've incorporated it (in very small doses) into their cocktail program.
Why open yet another craft cocktail lounge in a city filled with them? "I saw a gap in the drinking scene in Chicago," Benjamin Schiller explains. "There wasn't a place where you could go and get a craft cocktail, but if you wanted a vodka soda you'd be treated the exact same way."
At this new Lincoln Park diner, Brad Rubin is serving barrel-aged root beer, plus milkshakes, phosphates, and egg creams made with refurbished antique equipment.
Parson's is the latest restaurant venture of Land & Sea Dept., a Chicago-based cohort of design-savvy entrepreneurs whose best-known work, Longman & Eagle, is at once an ambitious, Michelin-starred dining destination and an old-school whiskey-pouring neighborhood tavern. With the introduction of Parson's, LSD's methodology grows clearer: melt down a few cultural-historical references (Southern rock, classic American cars, a black-and-white photo depicting circa-1970s-style revelry), tap a promising chef to stir the pot, and leaven with a sprinkle of unassuming, modern-eclectic design.
Unless you've spent a lot of time in Chicago, you've probably never tried Jeppson's Malört, an intensely bitter spirit that's only available in the city and surrounding suburbs. And if you have, you probably know it as "that drink that tastes like burnt carpet."