*Last Updated 9/4/18*
I often get asked by friends and acquaintances coming to Chicago what my favorite places are to get a great beer in the city of Chicago. I’ve lived here since 2010, and jumped in the scene in 2012 or so. It’s been interesting watching how things have progressed and changed as time went on as old reliable stalwarts of the craft scene in Chicago have kept up with the times or in some cases, fallen behind as beer has changed.
This post will be updated periodically as establishments come and go, or change. I don’t consider this to be the definitive list of Chicago beer, merely my favorite joints to go for a good pint. I’d also add there is a bit of location bias skewed towards the Northwest side, based on where I’ve lived in the city.
In no particular order, I present my Top 10 Chicago Craft Beer Bars.
Nestled between a college campus and the Lincoln Park neighborhood is Local Option. Typically known for having one sizable beer event every month, Local Option hooked me in 2013 when I went to my first event there, called Pi Day on of course 3.14. You can always count on them to have multiple events throughout the year with BCBS variants and other rare stuff you might not see elsewhere in the city like kegs from De Struise or the occasional Loon. They also are home to a great tradition of Air Guitar championships. Food is available.
Well known for their realtime updated beer menu displaying not only what’s on tap, but how much of a beer is remaining in the keg, Links became one of my favorites upon opening a few years ago. Being able to see what is about ready to kick, or what was just tapped is a nice feature that I’d like to see offered more. They typically have several notable beer events each month and often times, revered hype stouts last more than just a few hours here.
Their kitchen offers some fine encased meat options and their fries are pretty money as well.
Where as Map Room has kind of lost relevance over the last couple years as the beer scene has developed, Hopleaf continues to wow and progress. Hopleaf is one of the best restaurants with an excellent beer program that has continued to offer great events and one of the better Belgian beer lists in the city. This is a great date spot as it has many quiet tables spread throughout the upper portion of the bar. Hopleaf is definitely the place to go if you’re in the Uptown/Andersonville area.
Bangers & Lace – Wicker Park
I imagine some might find this place pretentious. The crowd can be a little bit sometimes. I think Bangers & Lace is one of the bars I feel most welcome in by the staff. Sit at the bar, and talk beer with their smart and aware crew. This is one of the bars I value most for being able to bring non-beer friends to as they have a great cocktail program and a solid bourbon selection. Bangers & Lace is a place that generally doesn’t heavily promote its big beer tappings, which means some really great beers can sit here for days. The most notable of which was Lou Pepe Kriek 2007 that sat on tap for almost 2 full days back in 2014.
Bangers & Lace has a nice level of dark intimacy which makes it a great choice for a date as well. Their outdoor seating is also enjoyable when the weather is nice. Bangers & Lace serves food with a menu that regularly changes.
The Beer Temple
Brand new to the Chicago tap room scene, but an obvious pillar in the craft scene in general, The Beer Temple’s taproom is an excellent new facility with a taplist curated by one of the more admirable personalities in Chicago beer. The list features a very well rounded array of options from currently topical and popular hazy IPAS, to farmhouse ales/saisons, to ESB’s, imperial stouts and a spontaneous/wild beer line.
Throwing this spot in to the list as one of the better downtown beer locations, as well as one of the better craft joints to watch sports at. Far too often, many craft beer joints turn their nose up at athletics on TVs if they have televisions at all. That’s fine. There’s a place and time for that. But beer and sports are so inexorably linked that you might want a good spot to indulge in both. Timothy O’Toole’s is the choice for that. This location is also decent if you’re a tourist in Chicago who won’t have the time to get out to some of the further flung locations on this list.
The single best option for a Cubs pre-game or post-game beer is Sheffield’s in Lakeview. Sheffield’s does carry some great credit as a bit of an OG beer destination. Typically Goose Island does one of their Bourbon County Black Wednesday events here. They also typically have some really enjoyable cellar bottles they bring out from time to time or tease in a wine fridge near the back bar. They have some solid barbecue here and hold tap takeovers very frequently. Definitely the best beer bar in the Wrigleyville/Lakeview neighborhood.
Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar
Representing the south side is the original de-facto home for Marz Brewing, Maria’s. Maria’s is unique on this list as an example of a Chicago “slashie,” where both a tavern and a retail store are on the same premise. Beer Temple is also kind of one, but Maria’s a bit of a holdover from a lesser polished era. Before Marz opened their brewpub at their production facility, Maria’s was long the capital in the growing Marz operation. Maria’s continues to be a staple of the south side craft beer scene and is a great place to hit up before or after a White Sox game if you’re in town to catch some baseball.
Emporium Arcade Bar – Wicker Park
There are two Emporium’s, One in Wicker Park and another in Logan Square. The Wicker Park location is the specific one making the list. The Logan Square location is enjoyable in its own right, but home to less events, but feels much more roomy and expansive
The Wicker Park location typically has several enjoyable events per year from Darkside, a celebration of dark and barrel aged beers, to specific brewery tap take overs. It’s a bit of a packed bar many nights due to its 2 room split but as a Barcade, it’s an enjoyable spot and their live concert portion of their bar brings some entertaining acts. No food present but you’re welcome to bring your own.
The Map Room
I’m honestly a little half hearted about Map Room. It was the first craft bar in Chicago I had an affinity for. This is an OG craft beer spot in Chicago that has had many great beers available over the years including things like Vanilla Dark Lord, typically without much build up or hype. Over time, many great craft beer bars have opened in this area, including other locations on this list. Map Room feels like it has gotten somewhat stale in its offerings. That’s not to say it has fallen off with their offerings, rather they haven’t kept up with trends and new breweries in the same way another older pillar of Chicago beer like Hopleaf has. Still, Map Room continues to have a reliable list of Belgian stuff like Rodenbach and Tripel Karmeliet and I sentimentally value it for its history and charm.
Food is not available but you may bring in food from elsewhere. Also the tamale guy is known to make stops here
First 5 Out
The Green Lady
Binny’s Tap Room Lincoln Park
Those we’ve lost
The Beer Bistro
Previously an original Top 10 member, The Beer Bistro closed in May of 2018. I’m a big fan of Beer Bistro for its normalcy. It’s not a high end dining location, it’s not a dive, it doesn’t have a fancy electronic tap list, or an overly stylized chalkboard list. It’s just a good middle of the road gastropub with American cuisine, a fairly nice taplist and the occasional high profile event. I find Beer Bistro to be a good choice for a drink after dinner, if you’ve just finished up a meal in the Randolph Street area.
Previously a top 10 member, Villains was a bit of a sleeper, with it’s South Loop location and easy pivot from many peoples offices to happy hour. Villains was a great option if you were staying in the Loop, and fairly easy to get to if you’re in River North or near McCormick Place. Villains carried many Shelton Brothers items. It’s probably not the best choice if you’re looking to drink primarily Chicago beers, though they do have some. Villains is one of the few places in Chicago that typically had Cantillon bottles available for on-site consumption, though they are typically almost as pricey as secondary market bottles go. The gastropubby food is certainly elevated and their staff is very generous with sharing limited pours if they’re having an event. I think this bar was the right idea for the wrong part of the city.
Header photo courtesy of Kevin J. Miyazaki, New York Times