Chicago is one of the drunkest cities in the United States. Not to say people in other cities don’t drink as much. It’s just that Chicago, for several reasons, has the most, and drunkest, people. [These reasons include: bars are open until 4am (5am on Saturday); 24/7 public transportation system to take drunk people home at all hours; the largest concentration of craft breweries in the world; no legal restrictions on happy hours; the Big 4 sports franchises (football, hockey; baseball; and basketball) which translates into year around adrenaline-fueled celebratory, as well as sorrow-drowning, drinking; and Chicago is the 2nd densest populated major municipality in the US, so there’s simply a lot of people everywhere.]
And inside America’s drunkest city lies our Wicker Park/Bucktown neighborhood. The indisputable crown jewel of midwest public drunkenness. There are so many bars in this part of Chicago, you can catch a buzz just by inhaling hard through your nose. For foreign drinkers, novice and expert alike, exiting the Damen Blue Line stop and seeing the concentration of bars stacked on top of bars can be overwhelming. There’s just so many places. And they’re all unique, with distinct atmospheres, drink lists, patrons and playlists. From the low-ball divey crust holes like Ed & Gene’s, to the top-shelf, haughty, James Beard-winning, gems like Violet Hour. The entire gamut of drinking establishments is covered within a 4-block radius.
While there are plenty of visitor guides and Yelp reviews that can steer you to the best bars, such a gesture would not be an honest one for us, and is not the intent of this blog post. From our perspective, the best things in life aren’t always the most satisfying things. Some places, while on their merits are the most worthy, lack a certain je ne sais quoi.
This isn’t a list of the best, or coolest, or friendliest, or cleanest, bars. This is a list of the bars that we go to the most. These are the comfort food staples of our alcohol abased diets. These are the places where we drink when we want to drink, not be dazzled. These are the bars where you’re most likely to find us when we’re not at the frontdesk, so stalkers, pay attention.
Back when we worked at a real estate firm, brokers would always host their ridiculous networking parties at this place, so keep in mind, those are some of the people you’ll find here. But also keep in mind, there’s a reason for that. It’s a really cool place. Like remember growing up, when you’d go over to your rich friend’s house, and be blown away by the miraculous estate their parents had fabricated. Northside is your rich friend’s parents house. There’s a bunch of polished rosewood, brass, framed Von Dutch-inspired T-shirt art on the inside, and a second outdoor bar along with the Villa De La Vina firepit from Season 3 of The Bachelor on the back patio.
Northside Bar & Grill is probably too classy for the likes of us, but the fact that it’s geographically the closest bar to our frontdoor and features daily food & drink specials, makes the young professional happy hour crowd and Men’s Wearhouse decor tolerable.
4) The Map Room
Of all the places on this list, the Map Room wants people to go there the least. At its core, it’s an old man beer bar that the young arrivistes stumbled upon when they started taking over the neighborhood a decade ago, and now they won’t leave.
We don’t really know the origins of the Map Room, but if we had a guess, it would be that an old timey sea captain, after traversing the globe on the boat from the Cutty Sark label, and suckling from a wide array of the world’s greatest fermented offerings, hung up his captain’s hat and wooden leg, and opened a neighborhood beer joint featuring a meticulously curated collection of humanity’s most sublime suds. And that distinct old sea captain smell.
Also, while frequently overlooked in reviewers’ analysis of the Map Room, the place has great coffee. They were rocking Intelligentsia long before anyone and all their bartenders can pull an espresso shot just as well as they can pull a pint of Boddington’s. Keep this in mind if you’re looking for a little pick-me-up around beer:30pm.
We’ve been going to this place since way back when it was called Cleo’s, and will continue to go after the apocalypse when the place is staffed entirely by robots that only serve carbonated Unobtainium juice.
This is the kind of place where, when watching a Blackhawks/Bears/Bulls/Cubs game on one of their many TVs, you will be expected to high five the stranger next to you when the Chicago team scores. And if it’s the play-offs, you’ll be expected to hug. We watched Game #5 of the Stanley Cup here and had to French kiss at least eight complete strangers when the Hawks won.
And lastly, a lot of bars have different daily specials throughout the week, but none compare to Wednesdays at Jack & Ginger’s. Burgers are half-priced (applies to their award-winning veggie burger), salads are half-priced (of which the Spinach Salad is the best option), Goose Island beers are $3, and shots of anything that starts with a “J” is $3. Jose Cuervo? $3. Jack Daniels? $3. Jagermeister? Gross, but just $3.
Here’s an indicator of how much Chicago adores Danny’s: A couple months ago, when it looked like Danny’s was going to close because the building’s landlord said Danny’s patrons partied too hard, people came out in droves to grieve like it was the Neverland Ranch the day after MJ died.
It’s no mystery why. Danny’s is the coolest. It’s this magical hybrid of dance club and dive bar. It’s like how when you were in middle school, you’d watch these movies of kids in high school going to house parties where everyone is dancing and sweating and making out with each other. And then when you get to high school and finally go to an actual house party, you expect it to be a scene from Can’t Hardly Wait. But instead of Jerry O’Connell getting drunk on a swing set while the kid from What About Bob? lip syncs a Gn’R tune with his shirt off, it’s just sullen teenagers awkwardly sipping from solo cups in a stuffy kitchen. Danny’s is the high school house party of your dreams. Particularly on Soul Night.
Estelle’s is the bar version of those blue jeans that you heedlessly put on like 3-days a week. You know, you wake up in the morning and look into your closet to figure out what to wear. And then after starring into the vacuum of your clothes for like 3-minutes, you just say, “Screw it. I guess I’ll just wear these stupid jeans again.”
We don’t think we’ve ever left our apartment with a plan to go to Estelle’s, but we almost always end up there. Part of the reason for that is that it’s open until 4am (5am on Saturdays). They also have something that all disoriented drunks love which is the menu blown up on the wall above the bar, so if you’re incapable of talking, you can always just point at things you want. And speaking of things you want at Estelles, #1 on the list should be the burger and fries prepared Point Break-style (Yes, like the Patrick Swayze movie!). They’re ½ priced on Monday.
Another sweet deal that we’re big time sappy wet suckers for is their Tuesday night beer special which consists of several choice American craft beer pints discounted to $2-$3. Take it from us, it’s the best dollar-busting beer bet in Bucktown/Wicker Park.
One final tidbit we’ll let you in on regarding Estelle’s: it offers your best odds of finding someone to hook up with. It’s probably/definitely because everyone there is wasted and they’re open late, but if you can’t make it happen at Estelle’s at 2:30am, you should probably just hang it up.
See you there.