Julia Thiel chooses the ten best bars in Chicago for cocktails

The 10 Best Bars in Chicago for Cocktails

by Julia Thiel (Food & Drink Writer at the Chicago Reader)

Julia Thiel has a job most of us dream of. As Food & Drink Writer at the Chicago Reader, she spends her work hours exploring, describing, and critiquing the gamut of Chicago restaurants and bars. And she is very good at what she does. With almost a decade at the Reader, she has garnered herself many followers and awards, including a James Beard for her Key Ingredient, a chef-to-chef recipe challenge series. (Insert “We’re not worthy!” Wayne’s World clip here.) She has given us the honor of providing you, Chicago, with her picks of the 10 best bars in Chicago for cocktails. We’ll toast to you, Julia!


Ward Eight

“It may be all the way up in Evanston (barely—it’s right on the border with Rogers Park), but Ward Eight is worth the trip. I can still remember the first Vieux Carre I had there years ago, velvety and dark with incredible layers of complexity.” (Cocktail Bar – 631 Howard St – website)


The Sixth

“It would be easy to write off cocktails like the Silly Rabbit, with its Trix-inspired multicolored ice cubes—or the Spaceman Spiff, served on top of a bowl of smoke and plastic toys—as hokey. But while they’re playful, the drinks are also really good. My favorite is the Weston, a more serious concoction of bourbon, tobacco, and coffee.” (Cocktail Bar – 2200 W Lawrence Ave – website)


Billy Sunday

“Some of the drinks I’ve seen on the ever-changing menu at Billy Sunday sound completely bizarre—most of the time, I don’t even recognize half the ingredients. But it’s a good place to take a chance on something new, and I’ve never been disappointed. Fortunately one of my favorites, the Box Lunch (with goat milk, genepi, and sherry), seems to be here to stay.” (Cocktail Bar – 3143 W Logan Blvd – website)


Chicago Distilling Company

“This distillery makes all the spirits it serves in its tasting room (by law, they can’t serve any other alcohol). I’d have expected this to make the cocktail menu feel limited, especially since I prefer dark spirits and the only options so far are vodka, gin, and white whiskey—but I’m always impressed by the creativity and complexity of the drinks here, particularly a white whiskey old-fashioned.” (Whisky Bar and Distillery – 2359 N Milwaukee Ave – website)


 Parson’s Chicken & Fish

“It never really feels like summer until I’ve had a Dark & Stormy slushy while sitting on the patio at Parson’s (and some fried chicken, of course). The other cocktails aren’t half bad either, especially the Angostura-heavy Bitter/Sour, which is a lot more palatable than it sounds.” (Fried Chicken Joint – 2952 W Armitage Ave – website)


The Violet Hour

“The Violet Hour gets a lot of credit (mostly deserved) for popularizing craft cocktails in Chicago, and the arrival of newer, trendier places hasn’t diminished its appeal. The speakeasy theme applies not just to the decor and rules—no cell phones, no ball caps, no jager bombs—but also to the cocktails, which are mostly classics and riffs on classics.” (Speakeasy – 1520 N Damen Ave – website)


The Matchbox

“Back before the Violet Hour ushered the cocktail renaissance into Chicago, the Matchbox was one of only a few places in the city making high-quality classic cocktails, and it’s still one of my favorite places to get a margarita. It doesn’t hurt that the place is ridiculously, charmingly tiny (good luck getting a seat, though).” (Bar – 770 N Milwaukee Ave – website)


Sable Kitchen & Bar

“River North hasn’t always been the best area to get a good cocktail, but that started to change with the arrival of Sable—which is still holding its own despite the more recent arrival of heavy hitters like the Drifter and GreenRiver. The long list can be overwhelming, but you won’t go wrong with the Cold Comfort or Fools in Paradise.” (Cocktail Bar – 505 N State St – website)


The Aviary

“Grant Achatz has been described as a “mad scientist,” and his commitment to molecular gastronomy is as evident at Aviary as it is at Next and Alinea. Your cocktail might be prepared with the help of liquid nitrogen or a rotary evaporator, or arrive encased in a balloon of ice that you break with a mini slingshot. And while the drinks are pricey, they’re also lots of fun.” (Cocktail Bar – 955 W Fulton Market – website)


Milk Room

“The cocktails are classic, but not as classic as the ingredients—this eight-seat bar in the Chicago Athletic Association specializes in vintage spirits and liqueurs, many of which date back to the 1950s. Accordingly, drinks are among the priciest in town, but it’s hard to beat as a spot to geek out about alcohol.” (Whisky Bar -12 S Michigan Ave – website)


Julia Thiel chooses the ten best bars in Chicago for cocktails

The 10 Best Bars in Chicago for Cocktails

by Julia Thiel (Food & Drink Writer at the Chicago Reader) 

Julia Thiel has a job most of us dream of. As Food & Drink Writer at the Chicago Reader, she spends her work hours exploring, describing, and critiquing the gamut of Chicago restaurants and bars. And she is very good at what she does. With almost a decade at the Reader, she has garnered herself many followers and awards, including a James Beard for her Key Ingredient, a chef-to-chef recipe challenge series. (Insert “We’re not worthy!” Wayne’s World clip here.) She has given us the honor of providing you, Chicago, with her picks of the 10 best bars in Chicago for cocktails. We’ll toast to you, Julia!

Ward Eight (Cocktail Bar – website)

“It may be all the way up in Evanston (barely—it’s right on the border with Rogers Park), but Ward Eight is worth the trip. I can still remember the first Vieux Carre I had there years ago, velvety and dark with incredible layers of complexity.”


The Sixth (Cocktail Bar – website) 

“It would be easy to write off cocktails like the Silly Rabbit, with its Trix-inspired multicolored ice cubes—or the Spaceman Spiff, served on top of a bowl of smoke and plastic toys—as hokey. But while they’re playful, the drinks are also really good. My favorite is the Weston, a more serious concoction of bourbon, tobacco, and coffee.”


Billy Sunday (Cocktail Bar – website) 

“Some of the drinks I’ve seen on the ever-changing menu at Billy Sunday sound completely bizarre—most of the time, I don’t even recognize half the ingredients. But it’s a good place to take a chance on something new, and I’ve never been disappointed. Fortunately one of my favorites, the Box Lunch (with goat milk, genepi, and sherry), seems to be here to stay.”


Chicago Distilling Company (Whisky Bar and Distillery – website)

“This distillery makes all the spirits it serves in its tasting room (by law, they can’t serve any other alcohol). I’d have expected this to make the cocktail menu feel limited, especially since I prefer dark spirits and the only options so far are vodka, gin, and white whiskey—but I’m always impressed by the creativity and complexity of the drinks here, particularly a white whiskey old-fashioned.”


Parson’s Chicken and Fish (Fried Chicken Joint – website)

“It never really feels like summer until I’ve had a Dark & Stormy slushy while sitting on the patio at Parson’s (and some fried chicken, of course). The other cocktails aren’t half bad either, especially the Angostura-heavy Bitter/Sour, which is a lot more palatable than it sounds.”


F Violet Hour (Speakeasy – website)

“The Violet Hour gets a lot of credit (mostly deserved) for popularizing craft cocktails in Chicago, and the arrival of newer, trendier places hasn’t diminished its appeal. The speakeasy theme applies not just to the decor and rules—no cell phones, no ball caps, no jager bombs—but also to the cocktails, which are mostly classics and riffs on classics.”


The Matchbox (Bar – website)

“Back before the Violet Hour ushered the cocktail renaissance into Chicago, the Matchbox was one of only a few places in the city making high-quality classic cocktails, and it’s still one of my favorite places to get a margarita. It doesn’t hurt that the place is ridiculously, charmingly tiny (good luck getting a seat, though).”


Sable Kitchen & Bar (Cocktail Bar – website)

“River North hasn’t always been the best area to get a good cocktail, but that started to change with the arrival of Sable—which is still holding its own despite the more recent arrival of heavy hitters like the Drifter and GreenRiver. The long list can be overwhelming, but you won’t go wrong with the Cold Comfort or Fools in Paradise.”


I  The Aviary (Cocktail Bar – website)

“Grant Achatz has been described as a “mad scientist,” and his commitment to molecular gastronomy is as evident at Aviary as it is at Next and Alinea. Your cocktail might be prepared with the help of liquid nitrogen or a rotary evaporator, or arrive encased in a balloon of ice that you break with a mini slingshot. And while the drinks are pricey, they’re also lots of fun.”


J  Milk Room (Whisky Bar – website)

“The cocktails are classic, but not as classic as the ingredients—this eight-seat bar in the Chicago Athletic Association specializes in vintage spirits and liqueurs, many of which date back to the 1950s. Accordingly, drinks are among the priciest in town, but it’s hard to beat as a spot to geek out about alcohol.”