Chicago has a rich history, and a rich drinking history at that. These are our best Bars in Chicago- from historic bars, to game bars, to best happy hour. As a center for agricultural trade in the Midwest, Chicago became a natural spot for the manufacturing of liquor. The social demand for alcohol in the area also allowed the industry to grow, and by the time Chicago became a city in 1837, there were 10 taverns, one brewery, and over 25 grocery stores already selling liquor dotted across the city. Today, you can have a pint while you play Tron, or enjoy Happy Hour with friends.
Historic Bars in Chicago
The culture of drinking shifted in the city during the years of Prohibition. With infamous gangsters such as Al Capone and Bugs Moran running the show during Prohibition, alcohol continued to reach Chicago residents, whether it was legal or not.
Today there are thousands of bars in the city, providing many options for residents and visitors to grab a drink. But step back in history, and in the footprints of gangsters, politicians, and celebrities, and try some of the most historic bars in Chicago. Maybe you will make some history of your own.
Interested in Al Copone and Bugs Moran? You’ll love our Lincoln Park Gangster Tour!
Red Lion Pub
2446 N Lincoln Ave
The Red Lion Pub is one of the first English pubs in the city. English architect John Cordwell, a World War II veteran, was looking to open up an English pub as a hobby of sorts with his family. This pub took over the spot that had original been named Dirty Dan’s Western Saloon, owned by none other than Dirty Dan himself. Cordwell saw the value is the building itself, and gave Dirty Dan an offer he could not refuse. The Red Lion Pub was officially opened in 1984. This spot is historic enough, with gangster and bank robber Johnny Dillinger being gunned down in an alley across the street. To add to the intrigue of this spot are the spirits that are rumored to be lurking in the pub itself, including the spirit of Corwell’s father. This is said to be the most haunted restaurant in Chicago! Learn more about the history of the Red Lion Pub and Johnny Dillinger on our Lincoln Park and Gangster Tour!
The Berghoff Bar
17 W Adams St.
Herman Berghoff immigrated over from German to Indiana with his brothers to start brewing Berghoff’s Beer. Berghoff made his way to Chicago in 1893 to sell his beer at the 1893 World’s Fair hosted here, the Columbian Exposition. At the end of the fair, Herman opened up the Berghoff Bar, selling beer for just a nickel. In 1920 with the passing of the 18th Amendment, Prohibition, Berghoff had to rethink his business plan and he opened up the Berghoff Restaurant to serve some traditional German food. 13 years later, when word got out that Prohibition was about to repealed, Berghoff camped outside of City Hall to get the #1 liquor license for the city, which they still proudly display inside their bar today. Now you will find the Berghoff Bar and The Berghoff Restaurant, still run by the original Berghoff family, making it the oldest family run restaurant in the city. See and hear more about the Bergoff Bar on our Loop and Millennium Park Tour.
1655 N Sedgwick St
Originally opened as a tavern in 1910, this building has hosted celebrities such as Frank Sinatra and Conan O’Brien with some of the best slow-cooked and grilled ribs in town. This tavern went underground in the form of a speakeasy during Prohibition, named Tante Lee Soft Drinks. The secret escape hatch in the basement remains as evidence for these historic roots. After Prohibition ended, ownership changed hands and it was transformed into the cozy nautical establishment that it remains today. Frank Sinatra still makes a presence here, as played on the classic jukebox.
Billy Goat Tavern
The Magnificent Mile
430 N. Michigan Ave at Lower Level
Originally opened up by Greek Immigrant William “Billy Goat” Sianis in 1934, this hidden tavern has great food and drinks. This spot is made famous by its association with the curse of the Cubs in 1945 and the John Belushi “Saturday Night Live” skit from 1978. When Billy Goat was not allowed to bring his pet billy goat, Murphy, to the Cubs World Series Game in 1945, he officially cursed the Cubs, saying, “The Cubs ain’t gonna win no more. The Cubs will never win a World Series so long as the goat is not allowed in Wrigley Field.” This led to the 108 year drought experienced by the Cubs, that was only just broken in 2016. This remains a Chicago staple though, with the interior decorated with hundreds of photographs, and continues to attract many reporters and journalists who work for the newspapers housed above. Stop by this treasure on our Riverwalk and History Tour.
1758 N. Sedgwick St
Welcome to Marge’s. Founded in 1885, this neighborhood classic remains the oldest continually run tavern in the city. Not even prohibition could scare away the crowds as this transformed into a speakeasy by selling bathtub gin in the cellar. Costumers could access this hidden section through a side stairwell. While this spot has seen some changes in the decades since, it maintains the original antique wooden bar. This dive bar now also functions as a restaurant, and serves pub food and bistro entrees alike.
140 E. Walton St.
This popular and historic spot opened up on December 6th, 1933, the day after Prohibition ended. Claiming the second liquor license in the Windy City, this spot is hosted inside the beautiful and historic Drake Hotel. When it first opened up, Coq d’Or was serving whiskey for 40 cents, and was prepared for the lines of costumers that swarmed there to celebrate the end of Prohibition. Translated to “Golden Rooster”, this sophisticated spot has welcomed guests such as Winston Churchill and Joe DiMaggio. Come and enjoy this beautiful, intimate space that maintains its 1930’s charm, and provides live jazz on Fridays and Saturdays.
The Green Door Tavern
678 N Orleans St.
The Green Door Tavern resides in one of the first buildings built after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and is the last wood framed building constructed before new building codes banned this post fire. You might notice that the building leans a little, but to be expected for such a historic spot that also survived another fire and a car crash! What started out as a grocery store transformed into a dining establishment in 1921, that also ran as a speakeasy during Prohibition. Named after the green door itself, signaling the presence of this illegal drinking establishment, this spot has been a favorite for locals and guests for generations. Serving daily drink specials and a delicious food menu, this spot also maintains its original speakeasy, the Drifter, in the basement.
5210 N Clark St.
Originally opened by Swedish immigrant Simon Lundberg as a small grocery store named Burwood Food Shop, this popular hangout transformed into a speakeasy then the neighborhood classic that it is today. One day, Simon accepted a proposal from a couple of local bootleggers to serve some whiskey in his coffee. Soon his coffee was more profitable than his groceries, and Simon opened up a second grocery store. Out of the basement of this second shop he operated a speakeasy called “N.N. Club” or “No Name Club”, accessible to costumers through the alley. In 1933 with the end of Prohibition, Simon turned his store into Simon’s Tavern. More than just any old tavern though, this is said to be one of the most haunted taverns in the country. Simon’s is haunted by the spirit of a married woman who was rumored to be having an affair with Simon’s son. After she passed away in a car accident, the family wanted to be rid of this scandalizing rumor and cut the woman’s face out of a mural that hung in the bar. Since then, many regulars believe her spirit has never left this tavern.
The Old Town Ale House
219 W. North Ave.
Conveniently located around the corner from famous comedy club, Second City, this spot has been a watering hole for many authors, journalists, and comedians such as Roger Ebert, Mike Royko, Nelson Algren, and Bill Murray. Throughout the Ale House you will find the traditional wall mural, paying tribute to dozens of regulars through their portraits and some nude paintings of politicians.
The Green Mill Lounge
4802 N Broadway St.
Step into one of Al Capone’s favorite spots. This establishment is the oldest nightclub in the city that operates under the same name. This building first opened up in 1907 as Pop Morse’s Roadhouse before being renamed the Green Mill Gardens. This was a lavish place of dancing and overflowing with champagne, but was soon was forced to turn into a speakeasy during the years of Prohibition. The Green Mill was run by Al Capone’s associate, “Machine Gun” Jack McGurn. Today, the Green Mill Lounge has much of its original charm from the 1930’s and 40’s, and you will still be able to find Al Capone’s favorite booth. Enjoy this spot as it maintains its tradition of jazz music, swing dancing, and poetry readings.
Game Bars in Chicago
There is a bar for everything here in Chicago, including a spot to grab drink while throwing it back to your favorite arcade game or rolling the dice to a classic board game. Below you will find some of our favorite bars scattered across the city that allow you to enjoy the company of your friends, while testing your skill at Pac Man or knowledge with a classic game of Trivial Pursuit.
Head to Headquarters Beercade to enjoy vintage arcade games, over 70 draft beers, and a unique food menu. This multilevel space provides many game options, including classics such as Pac Man. The best part? All of the games are free, so don’t hold back as you make your way from pinball to Donkey Kong.
Wicker Park/ Logan Square/ Fulton Market
Emporium was Chicago’s first arcade bar, and it remains a classic, with favorites such as Tetris and NBA Jam. Beyond the video games and pinball, you will find table games, including foosball and pool. Sip on one of their craft beers while enjoying the games and special events that take place. Tokens are 25 cents, so buy a handful as you take advantage of some of the unique games at one of Emporium’s 3 locations.
Beyond the classic video games, in FTW Chicago you will also discover carnival games such as skee-ball and a six hole mini-golf course. Serving over 32 draft beers and American comfort food, this River North spot offers the perfect combination of sophistication with good old fashioned fun. Even better? This bar has prizes.
Replay Lincoln Park:
With a name to distinguish this spot for the original Boystown location, this arcade bar recently opened up in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. Their menu focuses on high-end beer as opposed to the other locations that are more bourbon focused, while still offering classic video and arcade games that are free to play.
The Logan Arcade is home to one of the largest collections of vintage video games and pinball machines. With over 30 pinball machines, and 47 video games, this spot allows for a lot of variety to match its extensive beer list. This is one of the only arcade bars that accepts quarters, so empty your pockets and enjoy the competition.
Board Game Bars:
This Wrigleyville spot is perfect neighborhood watering hole that draws customers from all walks of life. With many board games to choose from, this is a great spot to settle in for a classic game of Life. When you get hungry, choose one of the take out menus stuffed within the coffee can to order takeout that will be delivered right to you at Guthrie’s.
This beautiful and historic space is tucked back on the second floor of the Chicago Athletic Association. Order a drink or some small plates as you take advantage of the game options, such as bocce ball, foosball, shuffle board, and chess. Find the Game Master to put in your name for a reservation, or bring your own deck of cards to play at one of the many tables throughout the bar.
This dive bar might be easily missed as you walk past. But inside, you will find really cheap beer and drink deals, pool, darts, and a some old fashion board games such as Trivial Pursuit. This neighborhood spot also broadcasts all of the Chicago sports teams.
Green Eye Lounge:
This bar is another favorite Logan Square spot. With a craft beer, brick walls featuring local artists’ work, and a board game selection, this is the perfect paid back spot for a group of friends to gather, conveniently located right off of the blue line.
This community oriented spot encourages conversation, reading, and a good time. As a wifi free zone, and phone-discouraged space, Kibbitznest is has comfortable chairs for reading, and tables for groups. Kibbitznest also houses discussions as they bring in outside groups. Come in for beer, play some games, and enjoy this cozy space.
Best Happy Hour in Chicago 2017
Happy Hour has returned to the Windy City! After 26 years of being banned, these drink specials dubbed “Happy Hour” were reinstated in 2015, with the hope of increasing tourism to Chicago, and allowing Illinois to move up in the ranks.
If you are familiar with the term Happy Hour, you know why we call it just that! But the good news is, it is normally more than just an hour! Now, hundreds of bars and restaurants across the city offer drink specials during these happy hours of the day, normal in the afternoon into the early evening. While some restrictions do apply, bars and restaurants can now provide drink specials for up to 4 hours a day, and 15 hours a week, prior to 10pm.
With hundreds of Happy Hours offered across the city, it might be difficult to know where to start. No matter which neighborhood, ambiance, or day of the week, there is something for everyone.
Best Happy Hour in Chicago
Here are a few websites and apps perfect for finding the right Happy Hour, or securing some exclusive discounts.
DrankBank allows you to filter through Happy Hours by neighborhood, day of the week, or from a map itself. It will list which hours you will find these happy hours, and which deals are available during that time.
This website also allows you to quickly search for Happy Hours near you by putting in your zip code. Narrow in the search by selecting which date you are hoping to find this happy hour. This is also available as an app to make it a little more convenient.
For a more comprehensive list of Happy Hours by day with the neighborhood listed, check out Metromix.
This app allows you to search for nearby drink specials as well as live entertainment, trivia nights, and karaoke to add to your fun! Easily search what is close by or throughout the city by day of the week and activity. Don’t forget to save some of your favorite spots so you can easily return!
Get exclusive Happy Hour invites via BarPass. This app will notify you of deals and specials coming up. RSVP through the app to get your first drink on them, as well as gain access to other specials while trying out some of the best spots across the city.
Nightlife makes finding the best happy hour deals and city events that much easier. Search for nearby drink specials and events, and use this app to connect with friends, businesses, and others enjoying a night out in the Windy Cit.
The Root of Happy Hour
While these afternoon and evening hours are a joyful time with great drink specials, where does that name actually come from?
Beyond just a marketing term, the combination of these words have been used for centuries to describe a pleasant time, such as in Shakespeare’s play, King Henry V. However, the use of Happy Hour as a term to describe a set time for entertainment can be more directly tied to the 1910’s and to the United States Navy. Some crew members on the USS Arkansas used this term for the semi-weekly smokers. This “Happy Hour” turned into entertainment with music, wrestling, dancing, and movies. By the end of World War I, this tradition had spread to the entire Navy.
During the years of Prohibition, the practice of Happy Hour spread further and onto land. After the 18th Amendment was passed in 1920, making it illegal to manufacture and sell alcohol in the United States, groups would gather at speakeasies and underground bars and clubs to enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail. After Prohibition ended, Americans continued this routine of grabbing a drink after work and before dinner. Today, the tradition continues across Chicago and many other parts of the United States, and forever maintains the title of Happy Hour.