To help you figure out which new restaurants are worth going to, we created The Hit List, our guide to recently opened spots that we actually enjoy. We check out all of these places ourselves - even if a place is being hyped up everywhere, it’s not going to make our cut unless it delivers.
Now, we’re doing the same thing for bars. Chicago has a lot of places to drink and argue about sports and politics, with new spots popping up all the time. Some are okay and some are flat-out terrible, but occasionally, there are some great ones. From a pour-your-own brewery taproom to a resurrected country bar, these are the best new bars in Chicago.
Pilot Project in Logan Square feels like how most co-working spaces look online - high ceilings, leather couches, and groups of smiling people working on their laptops. It has a bunch of small-batch breweries under one roof, so you can try things you won’t find elsewhere, like wine-beer hybrids and Spanish tea IPAs. Plus, they open earlier than most taprooms (7am on weekdays) and serve coffee and pastries. It’s a great place to get some work done, or to leave your laptop at home and pretend you don’t have a job.
Until recently, there weren’t any places to drink beet juice-gin cocktails in Albany Park. But now you can at Bokeh, a cocktail bar just off the Kedzie stop. They have live DJs every weekend, and a menu of classics and drinks like the Tilt Shift, made with mezcal, pear syrup, lime, and egg white. There’s also a few bar snacks, like smoked trout dip and bacon-wrapped dates.
Whether you’re looking for a date-night spot or a place to drink bourbon alone in the dark, there can never be enough low-lit cocktail bars in the city. Now there's another one in Love Street, a new place in Lincoln Park from the people behind The Victor Bar. It has a romantic atmosphere and excellent classic drinks, like an Old Fashioned that was clearly designed using a tweed-jacket-wearing focus group.
Carol’s is a divey Uptown honky-tonk that first appeared around the same time as Watergate and the premiere of The Price Is Right. It closed in 2016 but recently reopened with live country music, and food that’s much better than it needs to be. Definitely get the wings and the burger that comes with a thin patty and special sauce on a squishy potato bun. If you’re not crazy about line dancing, there are plenty of flatscreens here so you can watch the game instead.
It’s not like West Town needed another brewery taproom - there are already a ton including a Goose Island spin-off, Great Central, and District Brew Yards. But if there has to be one more, we’re glad it’s Midwest Coast. Huge windows make it feel bright and open, there’s a big white marble bar with plenty of seating, and (most importantly) great beer. Also important: this place will let you bring your dog.
Little Victories looks like a 1970s rec room complete with high-backed leather stools and ferns, and it’s a great place in Wicker Park for an early-in-the-game date. There are dart boards, a pool table, and a jukebox to help you figure out if the other person has a decent taste in music. The drinks are good but you can skip most of the overpriced food with one exception: the fantastic extra battered fries, which we order every time we come.
Lazy Bird is in the basement of The Hoxton hotel in the West Loop, and looks the type of mid-century lounge that might never have actually existed outside of a movie set. In fact, if they ever decide to shoot a prequel for Chicago Fire we wouldn’t be surprised to see Lazy Bird pop up as a stand-in for a 60s jazz club. The cocktails here are all updates on classics like the Clover Club or a daiquiri with aguardiente, and we haven’t had a bad one yet.
Places that have a schtick - like some a Hollywood-themed restaurant, or a cafe dedicated to hard rock - usually don’t have much else going for them. But Janitor’s Closet, located in an actual old custodial closet in the basement of a River North hotel, doesn’t fall into that trap. The cocktails here are genuinely interesting (okra vermouth shows up in a couple of drinks), and delicious enough that we’d point you toward them even if they were served in, let’s say, some sort of cafe in the rainforest.
Dorian’s, a bar hidden behind a tiny record shop in Wicker Park, is another place that could just rely on a gimmick, but is actually good. The space is a high-ceilinged club with a wall of vinyl and a stage for live shows, and the green leather, wood paneling, and gold trim everywhere makes it feel like Burt Reynolds’ basement. The rotating drink menu is full of hits, but you should definitely avoid the Turkey Dew, a terrible Wild Turkey/Mountain Dew shot that still haunts our dreams.
From the people behind Sportsman’s Club, Ludlow Liquors in Avondale feels like a dive bar, if dive bars served excellent cocktails instead of $2 shots of plastic bottle vodka. Plus, stirred drinks are served by the ounce so you don’t have to commit to a full-sized cocktail. It’s got a colorful back patio that’s perfect for day drinking, and a full kitchen, which serves things like chicken parm nuggets and vegan chaat french fries.
Three Dots And A Dash in River North is fun, but sometimes it can feel as loud and busy as the tiki drinks it serves. The Bamboo Room, the secluded bar located inside Three Dots, is different. Compared to the main room, it’s like you’ve got your own personal island cabana where you can drink cocktails poured over shaved pineapple ice and not have to worry about being bumped into by a group of tourists. The small space has a mellow atmosphere, so your bartender has enough time and energy to answer any questions you might have about vintage rums and Trader Vic (who, yes, was a real guy, but sadly has no relation to Trader Joe).
District Brew Yards combines the novelty of a pour-your-own-beer bar with Chicagoans’ favorite setting: a brewery taproom. It’s a collaboration between four local breweries, so you can build a flight made up of things like a Mexican lager from Casa Humilde and a pistachio cream ale from Around The Bend. The whole place feels kind of like a food hall: big wooden tables perfect for getting work done or playing a board game with friends, and huge windows that open up onto Ashland that keep it from feeling too industrial inside. There’s also a full-service BBQ kitchen, so there’s really no excuse to leave until they close.