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

There’s no Jerry at Jerry’s. Owners Mark Bires and Mindy Friedler chose the moniker as an homage to Jerry Garcia, whose freewheeling spirit they evidently share, given that they’ve traveled the country sampling sandwiches ranging from Chicago's italian beefs to Philly's cheesesteaks, from New Orleans's po boys to New England’s lobster rolls. It’s easy to see the influence of their journeys on the eatery’s menu, a staggering array of more than 100 regional and ethnic sandwiches that could make a magic 8 ball cloud over from indecision. Root-beer-glazed ham, beef tenderloin, and fried tofu are but a few of the sandwiches’ centerpieces, their flavors accented by offerings such as fried green tomatoes and grilled asparagus. Diners can also customize their own creations from a board filled with meats, veggies, and 10 different bread options. Hand-formed burgers, rustic-cut fries, and decadent desserts add weight to the menu like an extra stripe adds weight to a zebra. At the eatery's bar, diners scan rows of roughly 200 American craft beers accessible by bottle or tap, and they savor a selection of 70 American whiskeys. When the digital jukebox needs a break, Jerry's hosts live music, the catchy tunes of which slither through door cracks and out to the outdoor dining area.

1938 W Division St
Chicago,
IL
US

One of the few downtown bars to survive the Great Chicago Fire, the Green Door Tavern has also spent time as a grocery store and Italian restaurant. Before heading inside, take a peek from across the street. You might be surprised to notice that the bar’s wooden frame leans visibly to the right.

678 North Orleans Street
Chicago,
IL
US

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