Chicago’s Essential Bars and Taverns

Chicago’s Essential Bars and Taverns

  • by Ashok Selvam and Naomi Waxman
  • 06/23/23

What makes a bar essential will always remain in the eye of the beholder. With this difficult mission, below is Eater Chicago’s list of the most essential bars in the city. While Chicagoans cherish their local bars, these are spots worth venturing to outside one’s comfort zone. It’s more than OK to visit someone else’s neighborhood pub for a night.

Note: Wine bars and brewery taprooms without cocktails aren’t a part of this list.

Is your favorite omitted from the list? Email [email protected] and state your case.

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Nobody's Darling

In short notice, Nobody’s Darling has carved itself a space in Chicago’s nightlife. The tavern itself lacks modern bells and whistles, but it’s the welcoming atmosphere, one that embraces the LGBTQ community and its allies, that makes the bar special. The narrow space is often boisterous on weekends with patrons ordering cocktails and beer. The bar was a finalist for the 2022 James Beard Award for Outstanding Bar Program. In 2023, the team began work on an expansion that will nearly double its capacity.

A rainbow flag hangs over the glass door of a narrow bar
Nobody’s Darling in a winner.
 Garrett Sweet/Eater Chicago

Hopleaf Bar

Hopleaf has made Andersonville a destination with good Belgian-style pub food and great beer — and no TVs. Owner Michael Roper offers a craft beer selection great enough to satisfy any beer nerd, but the interiors are comfortable enough to make any patron happy.

Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Green Mill Cocktail Lounge

Famous for being Al Capone's former stomping grounds — complete with legendary subterranean pathways where the infamous mob boss used to run booze — the Green Mill in Uptown is a classic tavern for music and a stiff drink. They don’t make bars like this anymore with a rich interior that echoes the venue’s past. The bar has opened up its window, allowing patrons to sit on the sidewalk for outdoor seating.

Carol's Pub

After a two-year slumber, Carol’s Pub, returned to Uptown in 2018 with a new owner, fresh interiors, and a bonafide food menu. The refresh proved controversial for the bar that continues to host live music. The bar retains much of its charm, minus some of the smoke damage from years and years of cigarettes. Customers still dance the night away until 5 a.m. on Saturdays as live country bands provide the soundtrack.

Carol’s Pub
 Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Long Room Chicago

The Long Room doesn’t have the most creative name — it’s literally a long, narrow room along Irving Park. But owner Jason Burrell and his team have created that type of tavern where the good times are never in short supply. Look for a great beer list, classic cocktails, and warm service.

Nisei Lounge

Wrigleyville can be daunting during the summer with tourists and baseball fans crowding Clark Street making parking an impossible mission. Locals take the Red Line and stay away from the main drag, looking for shelter at bars like Nisei Lounge, which has spent nearly seven decades in the shadow of Wrigley. It was the first dive bar to be on Tock, the reservation system used by fine dining restaurants. Don’t let that association fool you — the bartenders service up shots, beers, and this might be the best place to enjoy malört. There are pool tables, friendly faces, and a mix of people who care about baseball and those who couldn’t care less.

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