From genius concoctions by a Michelin-starred chef to a pirate den of tiki draughts, Chicago is mixing up some seriously boozy fun these days. Colleen Clark takes you on a bar crawl of the Windy City’s best
Cities like Portland and San Francisco hog the craft brew limelight, but with a whopping 60 breweries in the Chicago metropolitan area, it’s fast becoming one of the most exciting beer destinations in the country. Go to the sudsy source with a visit to Lincoln Avenue’s legendary Half Acre, a 13,000 square foot beer wonderland (with plans for a second 60,000 square foot restaurant, beer garden and brewery set to open fall 2014). Also new to the scene? California cult beer company Lagunitas's 300,000 square foot brewery and tap room (pictured above). Bottoms up!
Continue your beer education in Andersonville at Hopleaf, which serves up some of the city’s best mussels (ale-steamed of course) alongside a staggering selection of craft brews. We’re talking more than 260 by the bottle and 41 on tap, with an emphasis on Belgian-style beers, all served in specially selected glasses. It’s a beer nerd mecca that’s also welcoming to novices thanks to a beer garden, throwback blues soundtrack and a killer locavore menu of brew-friendly eats.
These days Chicago seems to have as many Michelin stars as it does windy days. And that culinary innovation has poured over into the city’s cocktail scene courtesy of spots like Aviary. Headed up by three Michelin-starred, molecular gastronomy master Grant Achatz, the Fulton Market spot shakes, whirrs and pours drinks with a level of quality and creativity that has more in common with the world’s top kitchens than a cocktail bar. Make a reservation that allows you to choose between a three-course cocktail tasting experience or a five-course package with five drinks paired with small bites. Or see if you can score an invite to their hidden speakeasy Office. Oh and give Charles Joly behind the bar a high-five. He was just named the top bartender in the entire world.
Three Dots and a Dash
You may not think of the Windy City as a place to go for tropical draughts. But we think the best antidote to a chilly day is slipping into this tiki joint, tucked down a torch-lined back alley in River North. You’ll descend past a skull-lined staircase into a kitschtastic room with a thatched bar, paper lanterns, totems and fake foliage. The cocktail game here though is no joke—Paul McGee’s mix of midcentury boozy classics, rare rums, modern-Polynesian riffs and expertly crafted punch bowls scored the bar the coveted title of Best New American Cocktail Bar for 2014. And really, who doesn’t love a flaming zombie punch served in a giant skull?
Built in 1892 by tavern owner and arts supporter John Dusek, the stunning stone Thalia Hall was long a historic landmark in the Pilsen neighborhood. The arbiters of cool behind the city’s beloved Longman & Eagle decided to revive the space in 2014, opening up a multi-story nightlife playground that Dusek would have been proud of. Onsite you’ll find a gastropub with a menu by Michelin-starred chef Jared Wentworth, a lovingly restored music venue that now hosts both local and national acts and a subterranean party den serving up punch bowls and haute bar fare (beer-mustard stuffed pretzels and beef-fat fries anyone?).
Kanye, Common, Lupe. Chicago’s rap game is tight. And you can worship at the city’s hip hop altar at The Shrine. The no-joke sound system does justice to the world-famous hip hop, funk and soul DJs that spin in the slick South Loop space. The look is sophisticated—think buttery leather bottle service sofas and reclaimed wood walls—but people come here to get down.
Parson's Chicken and Fish
When the weather warms up, Chicagoans pour out of doors to drink in some serious sunshine. Our favorite al fresco watering holes? It would have to be a tie between funky Logan Square fried chicken and beer joint Parson’s (we’ll meet you for a Negroni slushie by the ping pong tables) and The Wit, an epic rooftop spread with multiple bars, a suspended DJ booth, firepits and one heck of a boozy brunch.