Bars in Chicago

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Before moving to Chicago, Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh began their culinary careers in New York as a way to support themselves while they looked for work as actors. It wasn’t their acting that brought the duo to stardom, however. Against odds of 10,000 to 1, they sent a tape into the Food Network and, to their surprise, became the first-ever winners of the Next Food Network Star contest, landing their own show on the cable channel. That success enabled them to grow their catering business’s small café into a full-fledged restaurant serving up brunch, lunch, and dinner.

"Our focus is on what we love, which is mid-century food and the American culture of dining, and that kind of collective memory we have . . . taking those recipes and updating them for a modern palate," Steve says. For example, they top sweet potatoes with black-thyme-pepper marshmallows and create corn dogs with rabbit sausage in red-velvet butter. Steve says that they love creating conversation at their tables, especially as guests reminisce about memories evoked by dishes such as tuna noodle casserole and their Hearty mac ‘n’ cheese. "For Dan and I, that's a major part of the dining experience," he says. "If we can get their heads moving as well as their mouths, we feel pretty successful." Their efforts have paid off. "The duo is making magic by keeping it simple," said Phil Vettel in a review on WGN. "There's at least one wow ingredient on every plate. A simple burger is brightened with triple-cream cambozola cheese, sugar-cured bacon, and garlic aioli. Bacon-wrapped shrimp arrives on a pile of wonderful white cheddar grits . . . It's fun and delicious."

Dan heads the kitchen, while Steve forges many of the signature cocktails, aiming to discourage the intimidation that often surrounds craft cocktails. He and Dan even authored a book whose 200+ drink recipes include every cocktail made at Hearty, proving that everyone can make the drinks at home. Steve's even been known to chat up tables in hopes of introducing them to a new drink. "It's amazing, the amount of people who don't think they drink gin—so I have to force them," Steve says. "Once you have a gin that is different than that gin that you drank in the 1980s that was so harsh and juniper-heavy, once you're having one of these new American gins along with just simple fresh citrus and the other spirits… you understand what the fuss is about." He's also curated an exclusively American wine list with bottles from unexpected sources—including Dr. Frank's Salmon Run rkatsiteli from the Finger Lakes in New York, which he calls "floral and highly acidic . . . Everybody loves it."

3819 N Broadway St
Chicago,
IL
US

For every color in Roscoe’s Tavern & Café rainbow-striped logo, there’s a reason to visit the multi-faceted bar. During warmer months, a quaint sidewalk café sits outside the entryway. The interior is spacious enough to accommodate pool tables, a dance floor, live-band karaoke, and a regular schedule of drag shows and other events. Of course, the real draw is the bar’s well program—more accurately called a “drink well” program, as it promises higher-quality well vodka, whiskey, rum, gin, and tequila. It’s helped Roscoe’s earn a spot on Out magazine’s list of “The 50 Greatest Gay Bars in the World.”

With 25-year-old roots in Boystown—the wooden Indian in the doorway is a neighborhood mainstay—the staff at Roscoe’s has a vested interest in helping the surrounding community to thrive. They work with local businesses and charities, including Dance for Life Chicago, a performance-based non-profit that boosts awareness and raises funds for HIV and AIDS care, education, and prevention. The staff also helps patrons register to vote and join neighborhood associations so that they can make their voices heard without having to train a flock of really loud parrots.

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3356 North Halsted Street
Chicago,
IL
US

At Deleece Restaurant, fillets of caramelized salmon and cuts of heritage Berkshire pork don’t just sit on plates—they transform into edible works of art. The chef drizzles dishes with swirls of pear-ginger sauce, sprinkles microgreens over geometric plates, and coaxes tuna tartar into gravity-defying towers. The mastermind behind these globally influenced creations is Chef Ernesto Palaia, who also works to fill meals with organic produce and heirloom varieties. The menu brims with upscale meats, from Indiana duck breast and Amish chicken to the Nueske's bacon that crowns a club sandwich. Palaia also plumbs the ocean for fresh seafood such as Prince Edward Island mussels and plump diver scallops, which he prepared for Ben Hollis when the television host visited Deleece for a W.I.L.D. Lakeview feature. Palaia’s contemporary seasonings for these dishes range from lemongrass-chili aioli and lime-agave-nectar yogurt to fig-mostarda sauce. Burgers might brim with everything from house-made bacon jam to Wisconsin aged white cheddar.

Despite the sophisticated nature of its culinary offerings, Deleece maintains a down-to-earth atmosphere in its new location next to the Mercury Theater. Owners Lynne Wallack and John Handler preserve the warm, neighborhood feel of their previous location—where they resided for 16 years—with the help of staff members such as Anthony, their expert bartender. He and his staff craft specialty drinks ranging from a summery lemon-basil manhattan to a wintery smoldering hot toddy, which can soothe throats raw from shouting advice at movie characters at the Music Box Theatre a few doors down. Tipplers can also sip more than three dozen wines and beers from Belgium and Ireland or brewed right at home in Illinois and other Midwestern states.

3313 N Clark St
Chicago,
IL
US

Long after most of the Near North Side's restaurants and bars have locked their doors, Bijan's Bistro’s kitchen keeps on cooking. A beacon for late-night crowds, the eatery serves a late-night menu until at least 3 a.m. six nights a week. Although, befitting the restaurant's bistro moniker, the chefs aspire to create more than your average bar fare. The twilight menu seeks inspiration from cuisine across the globe, presenting diners with dishes such as guacamole and charred tomato-jalapeño salsa, wok-seared edamame with smoked sea salt, and a seemingly simple house salad that the Chicago Reader nonetheless lauded as, "outstanding." Even the regular dinner menu seems unwilling to commit to one style of cuisine, opting instead to include comfort foods from virtually every time zone. American classics such as meatloaf or macaroni and cheese with apple wood-smoked bacon might seem out of place alongside the roasted duck a l'orange and the Moroccan couscous tagine; however, this variety simply ensures that virtually everyone can find a dish that intrigues their palate. Centerstage Chicago praised this commitment to inclusivity,noting that, "like a good friend, Bijan's is there for you 365 days a year at almost any hour of the day." With its high ceilings, rich wood tones, and ample lighting, the bistro's dining room adds to that air of warm intimacy. White linens dress the handful of tables that help fill the room, although the stool-lined bar allows patrons to settle in a bit more casually. During the warmer months, the restaurant opens its sidewalk seating section to the public, encouraging diners to enjoy their meals while keeping an eye out for their favorite manhole cover.

663 N State St
Chicago,
IL
US

A self-proclaimed dive, Old Town Ale House doles out drinks until just before dawn in a dim, often-cramped space that exudes an enticing dinginess. Its proximity to Piper's Alley--home to The Second City--as well as to Zanie's Comedy Club and the Orchid Theater almost guarantees a steady crowd of performers and theatergoers who sidle up to the cash-only bar for beers on tap, shots, and cocktails. There’s not a lot of fuss here, but that’s where its charm comes from. The bar is cash-only and a bag of chips is the only available entrée option. Even the jukebox is filled with old-timey crooner tunes and jazz. It’s the type of music that was appreciated by the hotshot newspaper reporters, such as Roger Ebert, that called this place their late-night haunt of choice and their preferred spot to duck in during killer-bee attacks. Portraits of famous faces stare down from the walls, frozen in pigment by artist Bruce Elliott, whose paintings depict notable Chicagoans, Second City alums, and naked women in equal measure. Visitors can check out renditions of famous Old Town Ale House regulars, such as John Candy and Jim Belushi, and also ogle at paintings that have garnered national attention, such as nudes of Sarah Palin and Rod Blagojevich. Mr. Elliot is not only the bar’s interior decorator, he’s also the one running the show. Mr. Elliot befriended longtime owner Beatrice Klug over the more than four decades that he was a regular at the bar, and she decided to hand over the keys to the joint after she fell ill with cancer. Beatrice bequeathed Old Town Ale House to Mr. Elliot and his wife under the condition that they would not make any changes. Since opening in 1958, Old Town Ale House continues to remain suspended in time.

219 West North Avenue
Chicago,
IL
US

The embodiment of the neighborhood pub, the aptly named Burwood Tap sits on the corner of Burling and Wrightwood, and has welcomed patrons for nearly 70 years. It’s one of the few bars in town that opened on December 5, 1933¬–which Chicagoans recognize as the end of Prohibition. It’s corner-of-the-block location means plenty of locals stop in for a cold one after work, but the crowd also diversifies with college students from nearby DePaul University, who often stop in to take advantage of open-bar specials. No neighborhood haunt would be complete without some memorabilia, which the Burwood Tap has in spades. While scanning the bar from black-and-white-checkered floor to ceiling, visitors can spot items such as a deer head, an old tuba, and a Richard J. Daley campaign poster. A big reason for the bar’s charm is because the same family is now in its third generation of ownership, helping to ensure that things at Burwood Tap remain as steady as a cat’s appetite for human brains. Also, rumor has it that Leroy Brown was a regular here back in the day–the same man who’s the subject of the song “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” by Jim Croce. To soak up pours, patrons can belly up to the bar and fill up with free buffet food offered on select nights, including endless stores of mac ‘n’ cheese, wings, and meatballs. Brains power up for trivia on Wednesdays, while those hoping to score can show up Thursday nights for raunchy bingo. Doling out further merriment, the pub houses seven flatscreen TVs, a pool table, and complimentary all-you-can-eat popcorn within its cozy, wood-paneled confines.

724 West Wrightwood Avenue
Chicago,
IL
US

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