Chicago has always been known for its creative touch with liquor (especially during Prohibition), so it's no surprise the city has a flourishing culinary cocktail scene.
Making headlines is The Aviary, the latest innovation from world-famous chef, Grant Achatz of Alinea and Next. One estimate has The Aviary serving 23 different flavors of ice, including mint, for a little extra flavor in every drink.
As Chicago's first and only distillery with a cocktail bar, CH Distillery is the destination for local authenticity. Sit for a drink, take a tour to "witness the science of alcohol" and then grab a souvenir bottle of their vodka, gin or rum to go.
No matter the season, the tropical island backdrop of Three Dots and a Dash will warm you up... serious tiki drinks pack a punch. On a totally different spectrum, Celeste draws up 1920s allure in their 2nd floor Deco Room bar space and pays homage to barkeeps of the past in their ground floor Bar.
For fun, friendliness and no fuss, Henry's Swing Club is the perfect mix. This River North hangout packs a wallet-friendly punch ($10 cocktails and sliders that average $3 a pop) and exudes low-key cool: see the free pool table, decks of Uno games on hand and rockin' soundtrack as examples.
In the neighborhoods, The Violet Hour of Wicker Park, Billy Sunday in Logan Square, Ada Street in Bucktown and Barrelhouse Flat of Lincoln Park are just a few of the intimate settings where mixologists play. A dual-level space, alfresco patio and creative cocktail menu are at your disposal at The Dawson in West Town.
CHEERS TO A BURGEONING CRAFT BEER SCENE
There's a brewing renaissance happening in Chicago, and beer-drinkers are the happy beneficiaries. The craft beer explosion is one reason why GQ Magazine named Chicago the "Greatest Drinking City in America." A host of breweries, beer-centric bars and beer festivals leave fans of cold ones overflowing with options.
Founded in 1988, Goose Island Beer Company is the granddaddy of Chicago's breweries, and is now one of the largest craft breweries in the Midwest. Visit the two Brewpub locations or the new Fulton Market Taproom for a taste and tour.
From Petaluma, California — but with Chicago roots — the arrival of The Lagunitas Brewing Co. in 2014 was a bit of a homecoming. Join the party at their massive North Lawndale facility for free tours and live music from their mezzanine Taproom.
More neighborhood picks include the award-winning Piece Brewery & Pizzeria (a Wicker Park destination since 2001); DryHop Brewers (hop-centric ales are not surprisingly their standout); and Revolution Brewing, a hometown favorite known for their Chicago-centric fist tap handles and the variety of steller brews they pump out.
For draft, cans and bottle upon bottle of regional, national and international craft beer selections, Kaiser Tiger in the hip West Loop restaurant district combines suds with sausages and a great beer garden, while a chef-driven menu and live music hall makes for a perfect pairing at Dusek's Board & Beer.
You'll find that some of the best hot spots include our very own Chicago hotels.
The sleek Sable Kitchen & Lounge in Hotel Palomar Chicago impresses with both the contemporary American cuisine and the "Liquid Library" of carefully-curated cocktail classics that incorporate specialty liqueurs, bitters and fruit purees. Nearby at Acme Hotel, cocktail connoisseurs gather at The Berkshire Room, while over at the uber-cool Soho House, The Allis is a haven for creative types and late night imbibing.
The Pump Room at PUBLIC Chicago Hotel is back with old-school martinis once enjoyed by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Humphrey Bogart. Enjoy the low-key atmosphere of Bernard's at the Waldorf Astoria Chicago (formerly the Elysian Hotel) as another posh option. This 34-seat bar keeps with the hotels 1920s, Coco Chanel-inspired aesthetic. Over in the downtown Loop, The Lounge at the JW Marriott shakes up the Chicago Board of Trade cocktail with Bombay Sapphire Gin, white grape juice and cucumber.
On The Magnificent Mile, NoMI Lounge boasts drinks with a view from the the 7th floor of the Park Hyatt Hotel. See Lake Michigan and scenic Lincoln Park from J. Parker above Hotel Lincoln. Or check out the incredible skyline vistas above the Chicago River at Rebar located in the mezzanine level of the Trump International Hotel & Tower.
Jazzy stalwart Pops for Champagne has been pouring a list of 125 sparkling wines for more than three decades. Here's two tips: Musicians accompany the bubbles Sunday through Tuesday, and Watershed below is a hidden drinking den. For a handsome clubhouse setting in the same hood, the bar and lounge in Tortoise Club was made for the Manhattan, and live jazz adds to the weekend soundtrack.
The history-packed Uptown hangout Green Mill Jazz Club has been beckoning people to its famed bar with tales of Al Capone and a stellar lineup of acts.
City Winery is perfect for the wine-lover. For groups big and small, you'll find bottles of every variety and an intimate concert venue for national acts.
A cocktail and a tune? Howl at the Moon is the home of dueling pianos. Jam out to Guns ‘n' Roses and AC/DC covers or other crowd favorites. If one piano player doesn't know your requested song, the other undoubtedly will. A few blocks north, the winking eye of the Redhead Piano Bar sign welcomes you. Here the bow-tied bartenders shake and stir, while couples chatter until they break out in to song.
TV screens cover all the walls at Municipal Bar + Dining Co. and Public House in River North. Soccer and rugby get television time at Fado, an authentic Irish pub with double-barreled Guinness taps on all three levels. For more Irish fun and lots of local fans, check out Timothy O'Tooles for pub grub and the game.
A mecca for sports enthusiasts, Harry Caray's 7th Inning Stretch is a 23,000-square-foot complex on the Mag Mile that draws star Chicago players on their off-days. The newest addition to this beloved local chain has an interactive gaming zone and memorabilia showcases in the adjoining Chicago Sports Museum.
Head to Chicago's Wrigleyville where the streets are lined with sports bar after sports bar. You can't go wrong with a neighborhood named after the Chicago Cub's historic baseball field. Join the cheering and beer-ing at places like the Cubby Bear and Murphy's Bleachers.
LOUNGES & NIGHT CLUBS
If you're in the mood to mingle, check out Studio Paris, Chicago's hottest night spot. Located above the restaurant Paris Club, Studio Paris features an impressive lounge seating area under a retractable glass roof that opens to the Chicago cityscape. Guests can take in music spun by guest DJs from around the world, all while enjoying a cocktail at the 25-foot bar.
One of the city's premiere scenes, The Underground is always a party. Complete with celebrities, big-name DJs and well-dressed crowds, this River North fixture has garnered accolades like "Hottest Night Club" by Entertainment Weekly, "Chicago's Sexiest Bar/Nightclub" by Victoria's Secret and "Best Music Venue" by Time Out Chicago.
SUB 51, a private lounge below the restaurant HUB 51, becomes an exclusive nightclub on weekends where you can hear resident DJs spin beats that will have you dancing all night long. Or make it full circle and come back for brunch upstairs. There's a 10% discount for anyone that shows up in their pajamas, or better yet, a bigger discount if you're still in last night's outfit.
The Chicago club scene would not be complete without long-time favorites like the upscale knockout Cuvée Ultra Lounge and Spy Bar, a 20-year-old institution. New to the late night landscape, Shay Chicago brings upscale sass to a busy stretch on Ontario Street. Glam mirrors, sexy lighting, sparkling champagne and fancy small bites appeal to the ladies, while raised banquettes and bottle service make everyone feel VIP.
Untitled does it all — cocktails in a throwback lounge setting (there are five bars and fun whiskey creations are a focus), live entertainment (jazz to burlesque) and late night dancing. Other popular haunts in the River North circuit include Hubbard Inn, Rockit and Gilt Bar. And for très chic surroundings, find your way through the hidden alleyway to RM Champagne in the West Loop. It's quite the looker — both indoors and out on their luxe cobblestone patio.