Going out for a drink in Chicago (or any big city) is rarely a cheap venture. I miss going to my favorite college bars for $1 You-Call-It beers, mixed drinks and shots. But college bars are mostly quirky joints designed for intoxication, right? So if you want to "up your game," graduate to one of these classier urban spots and have some fun while exploring the Chicago bar and lounge scene without spending a fortune. Here's a list of bars to check out within close proximity of downtown Chicago that give you a good bang for your buck.
History - Green Mill Cocktail Lounge
Chicago has a really colorful history of speakeasies that fronted as ice cream parlors, furniture stores, and other places all across the board. The Green Mill Cocktail Lounge (above) is notable for hosting famous (or infamous, depending on how you look at it) celebrities such ash Al Capone, Frank Sinatra and Charlie Chaplin, as well as some of the city's greatest jazz musicians. If that's not enough star power, you should know that it's made an appearance in movies like "Ocean's Twelve," "The Untouchables" and "High Fidelity." Cover is anywhere from $4-15 if it's during a live show,
Karaoke - Blue Frog
If you're like me, liquid courage is a requirement for sharing my vocal talents. Chicago has a lot of Karaoke opportunities, but Blue Frog has karaoke almost every day of the week and is close to the city center and public transportation. They have plenty of daily drink specials and half-priced appetizers for before and after your "Voice" debut.
Food (and Trivia) - Fado
Fado Irish Pub & Restaurant is right across the street from where I work, so I'll admit to being a little biased. If you like the Irish pub atmosphere, you've got to check out this place. From 4-7 p.m., Monday through Friday, there are numerous $5 drink and food specials (I always order the potato wedges that come adorned with a variety of toppings). They have trivia Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m., comedy performers every Thursday around 9 p.m., and live music Friday and Saturday nights. Is there anything this bar can't do? Sláinte!
The best jazz isn't in the city center. If you want to make your time in Chicago memorable, are a jazz fan, or just want some bragging rights - you need to check out Kingston Mines or B.L.U.E.S. in Lincoln Park. Cover at Kingston Mines is about $12-15 dollars, so make sure you give yourself time to go and enjoy the music properly. B.L.U.E.S. is closed Monday and Tuesday, and cover ranges from $5-10. They're currently running a Sunday special where you pay cover at their establishment and get into Kingston Mines (just across the street) for free.
What kind of games do you like? I've got two great suggestions for you. First off, a Chicago favorite: Headquarters Beercade (above). Originally located in Lakeview, Headquarters has recently expanded to River North. Enjoy gourmet bites, craft beers and cocktails (ask for my favorite - Motts) and FREE arcade games. Another new River North addition is Pinstripes, which is located just blocks from the AMC River East movie theater. If you're looking for a full night of entertainment, come to Pinstripes, sample some local Chicago beers (or delicious wine), play bocce ball or bowl, and enjoy Italian favorites like flatbread and gelato. Game On! Head over to a movie afterwards if you don't want to turn in yet.
If you want the most indelible views of Chicago from high in the sky, go to The Signature Room at the 95th in the Hancock Building. Here, you're not only spending your money on unforgettable vistas of Chicago's beautiful skyline, but also on a delicious cocktail. Tourists love to take pictures in the women's bathroom - it's a breathtaking view. (Sorry guys, ladies only.) You may want to send your date, pal or friendly female stranger in with your camera. Truly a signature experience.
Photos: Green Mill Cocktail Lounge by Adam Alexander; Fado courtesy of Facebook; The Signature Room by Andrew Seaman via flickr