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.
Ranked as some of the Best Barbecue in Chicago by CBS News, Honky Tonk Barbecue is the brainchild of pit-master, chef, and owner Willie Wagner. Within the Pilsen space, Wagner rubs and smokes his famous pulled pork for 17 hours, using the same recipe and technique that won him third place at the world Championship Barbecue Cooking contest in 2008. Barbecue-loving Midwestern crowds—and celebrity chef Guy Fieri—flock to Honky Tonk for not just the pulled pork, but also to sample bacon candy, beef brisket sandwiches, and bold slabs of dry-rub St. Louis ribs.
Situated on a quiet corner in Lakeview, Cody's Public House embodies the spirit of a neighborhood tavern. The dog-friendly drinking hole doles out beers on tap in a casual atmosphere bereft of much glamor, and that's how most patrons like it. An old-school jukebox pumps music across the expansive main bar area, which features a pool table, and into an adjacent room where dartboards line the walls. Cody's ample square footage extends outside onto a large back patio featuring TVs, bags, and even more dartboards. To complement the libations, guests can fire up their own meats on the outdoor grill or snag a handful of pretzels from the bar.
Windy City Inn's bartenders wet parched whistles with beer by the glass, bottle, and bucket, as well as cocktails and myriad libations, late into the night seven days a week. Wall-mounted televisions pour sporting events into fans’ thirsty eyes at this friendly North Center pub. Its atmosphere drew praise from the Chicago Bar Project, which wrote, "the camaraderie at Windy City Inn is amazing." Occasional music and open-mic nights accompany the melody of clinking ice cubes, and a brief menu of bar nibbles keeps stomachs from growling out sea chanteys.
A quintessential Chicago bar, Schaller’s Pump boasts a storied history that’s built on a foundation of baseball and politics. The tavern is a mainstay of Bridgeport in every sense of the word. It’s Chicago’s oldest continually running bar (since 1881) and over the years it has served as a shot-and-beer hangout for blue-collar workers, a pre-game dining spot for White Sox fans, and a hangout for the deal-making politicos that work across the street at the 11th Ward Democrats. Visitors walking up to the tavern should enter through the side door next to the parking lot; the large, arched-wooden door in the front of the bar remains shut at all times to ward off door-to-door encyclopedia salesmen. Once inside, visitors may not be blown away by the unassuming décor, but they’ll soon warm up to the cheap beer, singing old-timers, and menu of hearty eats such as butt steak and corned beef hash. However, the real draw is the chance to hear a good story. Owner Jake Schaller has lived upstairs for 35 years, and can talk anyone’s ear off with tales of illegal booze-running and Chicago big-shot sightings. For example, The South Side Brewing Co. operated next door during the Prohibition, under the guise of making non-alcoholic beer. Little did the authorities know that barrels of booze constantly rolled through underground tunnels connected to Shaller’s Pump. Future mayor (da mare, in Chicagoese) Richard Daley spent his 21st birthday here, and White Sox owner Bill Veeck used to stop in regularly for a cold brew. One time, Mr. Veeck took a $20 bill, covered one side with butter, put a silver dollar on the other side, and threw it (true it, in Chicagoese) at the ceiling. The bill supposedly stayed there for 20 years. It’s the type of longevity that makes this place so charming.
“Cheezborger! Cheezborger! No fries, cheeps! No Pepsi, Coke!” The Billy Goat Tavern’s grilled fare—and its colorful staff—were famously parodied on Saturday Night Live in 1978 by the likes of John Belushi, Dan Akroyd, Bill Murray, and Loraine Newman. Several legends surround this place, highlighting a more-than-75-year-old history with aspects of the unbelievable, including the inspiration behind the tavern’s name. The story goes like this: After falling off of a passing truck, a brazen billy goat entered William Sianis’s then-called Lincoln Tavern. Not only did Sianis name his eatery after the animal, but he also adopted the nickname “Billy Goat”—and a new goatee—for himself. Perhaps the most memorable thing about the flagship Billy Goat Tavern is its location: it’s located in a subterranean nook beneath The Tribune Tower. The franchise also has seven Chicago-area locations, where its staff continues to serve up the cheeseburgers and hamburgers that brought Billy Goat Tavern national attention. To the menu, they’ve added breakfast specials, as well as Italian beef sandwiches, salami, and hotdogs.