The Best Craft Cocktail Bars in Chicago

Chicago has always embraced bold concepts and innovation, so it’s no wonder the current cocktail landscape is flush with a whole slew of bars pushing the envelope. Fancy a gin cocktail? Scofflaw’s got your back. Or maybe it’s a banana daiquiri kind of night, in which case the tropical oasis Lost Lake is your spot. Can’t make up your mind? Plenty of bars have comprehensive menus, and the ambiance ranges from posh and dolled-up to just-rolled-out-of-bed and unfussy. Chicago’s cocktail game is as well-rounded as the city itself. —Emma Janzen & Lauren Viera

  • 1

    Aviary

    The liquid counterpart to chef Grant Achatz’s Next, Aviary exhibits a similar dedication to innovation and theater. The not-quite bar (there is no "bar" to speak of, just a kitchen with prep stations) adopts a molecular slant, delivering cocktails in unexpected forms and flavors—an Old-Fashioned served inside of an ice cube, a drink that tastes like buttered popcorn—served in a tasting menu format. This may not be anything like your average bar, and that's exactly the point. After drinking at Aviary there's absolutely no way you'll look at a cocktail the same way again.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails
    • bar food
  • 2

    Berkshire Room

    Located on the first floor of downtown’s Acme Hotel, the hip Berkshire Room oozes a cool, modern ambiance that hints at exclusivity. But while the interior décor is lush, the drinking agenda is decidedly democratic. Barrel-aged cocktails share menu space with “blue collar lagers" and the crowd ranges from locals and industry types to hotel guests.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft beer
    • craft cocktails
    • hotel bar
    • bar food
    • lots of whiskey
  • 3

    Billy Sunday

    Logan Square’s Billy Sunday is a bona fide sanctuary for bitters lovers, boasting a striking collection of hundreds of vintage and modern amari. So, if you don’t need a glossary to decipher terms like wormwood, gentian, Fernet or kola nut, you’re in the right place. Italian bitters and other astringent ingredients are spun into house cocktails with consistent balance, making for a drinks list that has the power to surprise and delight even the most uppity cocktail experts.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails
    • full menu
    • lots of whiskey
    • bar food
  • 4

    Broken Shaker

    The Chicago outpost of Broken Shaker (whose Miami location won 2015 Tales of the Cocktail award for "Best Hotel Bar")  boasts "Chicago-style mixology" in the form of old-school classics, new offerings deemed "Chicago-inspired" and blasts from the bar's past by way of the menu's "Broken Shaker Hits" section. With drink names like "B#!ch Don't Kill My Vibe," the bar team serving up some of the best cocktails in Chicago (alongside a killer food menu) with a side of cheeky humor.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails
    • bar food
  • 5

    Chicago Athletic Association

    Inside the Chicago Athletic Association—a boutique hotel housed in a dramatic 1890s building—guests and casual drop-ins alike will find games, food and top-notch cocktails available from multiple different bars. Speakeasy-meets-men's-club, The Game Room sees classic drinks served alongside a bocce bay and billiard and shuffleboard tables, while Milk Room is all about the whiskey; local legend Paul McGee heads up the drinks at both.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails
    • games
  • 6

    Lost Lake

    A Logan Square tiki oasis with all the modern trappings (not least of all friendly bartenders well-versed in rum), Lost Lake joins Land & Sea's roster of delightful destinations, alongside Longman & Eagle and Parson's Chicken & Fish. Banana leaf-print wallpaper surrounds as Paul McGee and his team serve up a menu that delves deep into the classic tiki (and Three Dots) canon, while still offering some innovative options that McGee has described as "slightly weirder."

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    KNOWN FOR

    • tiki
    • bar food
  • 7

    The Office

    Located in the basement below molecular mixology den The Aviary, The Office is its upstairs neighbor’s opposite in every way, from the décor (think: wealthy Wisconsin man cave) to the dessert (once upon a time, there was a $30 ice cream sundae on the menu). With two-dozen seats and often just a sole bartender holding down the fort, the Office is as exclusive—and comfortable—as high-end drinks get.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails, bar food
  • 8

    Scofflaw

    The back bar at this modern Victorian parlor stands flush with an impressive stash of gins from around the world. In true Logan Square fashion, the place is one-part hip living room, one-part casual saloon. The cocktails run the gamut from fresh and fruity to big and boozy, while an array of small plates and upscale bar snacks fill out the menu.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails
    • bar food
    • full menu
  • 9

    The Sportsman's Club

    Though it’s tiny and off the beaten path, Sportsman’s Club is regularly sought out by cocktail nerds and industry folks alike for its consistently good craft cocktails served sans pretense. Kitted out with taxidermy, vintage fixtures and an old-school register, the art deco–era bar is a typical prototype of the neighborhood, lovingly restored for the 21st century. The menu is deliberately sparse: Four daily cocktails rotate with the bartender’s whim, encouraging experimentation for both the dealer and the drinker.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails, cheap date
  • 10

    Violet Hour

    Not much has changed at the Violet Hour since it set the standard for Windy City cocktailing in 2009. In fact, after six years, the bar's speakeasy entrance, smooth jazz and patchwork of private nooks draped in heavy velvet curtains still maintain the power transport. And while the drinks remain innovative, the bar itself hasn't changed its tune: it's still one of the most buttoned-up cocktail destinations in the city. So, don't be surprised if the bartender gives you a sideways glance when you pull out your cell phone or stray from any of the other house rules.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails
    • bar food
  • 11

    Vol. 39

    Bars in the Loop generally fall into two camps: cookie-cutter hotel lounges with overpriced, mediocre drinks or dark dives with little to offer beyond pitchers and shots. Though it’s technically a hotel bar (it’s situated at the Kimpton Gray Hotel), Vol. 39 is a refreshing alternative: It boasts a well-versed staff (Jess Lambert, formerly of Sable, is in charge) mixing up drinks worth their price tags in a room comfortable enough for many rounds.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails, fancy food, hotel bar
  • 12

    The Whistler

    Long before Logan Square became the cocktail capital of Chicago, there was the Whistler: a kind of a cocktail cabaret featuring a handful of hand-crafted drinks made by a bearded Las Vegas transplant called Paul McGee. It’s no surprise that in the decade since The Whistler opened and McGee moved on, it remains packed every night—and not just because it’s relatively small. It’s the rare spot that maintains neighborhood-bar status while offering eclectic programming that wins new fans nightly.

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