Top 5 Cocktail Lounges in Chicago

No one goes thirsty in Chicago anymore

Just about every new restaurant (of note) opening in Chicago has an all-star cocktail list. Sometimes, they’ll employ a guy like Adam Seger or Paul McGee to create or consult; one thing is for sure, they stock names like Luxardo and St. Germain with regularity, make their own simple syrup, squeeze their own citrus and wouldn’t dare put a bottle of Rose’s lime juice anywhere near the bar. The bartenders (a.k.a. mixologists, bar chefs, barkeeps) know their drinks by heart, and often create their own libations based on classic recipes.  Liquors and liqueurs are meticulously sourced, the atmosphere is conversation-friendly with chairs to boot – not just barstools – and best of all, it doesn’t matter if you’re a rum, tequila, bourbon or gin drinker, you’re going to find something that sounds absolutely delicious (and thirst quenching). Just please don’t ask for a vodka soda.


I realize there are so many places to get a good drink in the city these days, so I changed the criteria a bit this week (there’s only room for five places, afterall). Rather than highlight great cocktail programs within restaurants (Sepia, Boka, GT Fish) we’re limiting this top 5 to places that are primarily designed to serve cocktails; food is a bonus, not the focus.


1. The Aviary, 955 W. Fulton Market; (312) 226-0868

What happens when the minds (and budget) of Alinea and Next decide to treat cocktails like food? A Willy Wonka-esque trip through modern cocktails that relies as much on the ice and the serving vessels as it does on the recipes.


2. The Violet Hour, 1520 N Damen Ave.; (773) 252-1500

The city’s first true “speakeasy” in the mold of NYC’s Pegu Club or Flatiron, you can’t linger here unless there’s a seat available (very Bourbon and Branch – SF) which means once you score a seat, you’re unlikely to leave.


3. Barrelhouse Flat, 2624 N. Lincoln Ave.; (773) 857-0421

One of the latest additions in the city – helmed by some former Violet Hour alums – it’s located in a part of Lincoln Park known more for its sports bars and big screen TVs than its Aperol and sweet vermouth. The cocktail list here will take you awhile to read, and making decisions will be awfully difficult.


4. The Drawing Room, 937 N. Rush St.; (312) 266-2694

There’s a reason Charles Joly commands so much respect among his peers. If you’re really into geeking out, sit at the small bar, and chat up the man himself or one of his knowledgeable staff; their arsenal of bar tools and ingredients is impressive, to say the least.


5. The Whistler, 2421 N. Milwaukee Ave.; (773) 227-3530

Paul McGee has moved on – now working for Lettuce Entertain You – but he leaves behind a staff committed to creating well-balanced cocktails with zero pretense (and better prices than anyone else in town); thank you, Logan Square real estate.


Honorable mentions:

Bar DeVille, 701 N. Damen Ave.; (312) 929-2349


I’ll be keeping my eye on:

Scofflaw, 3201 W. Armitage; (773) 252-9700

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