Chicago is a great destination for foodies, architecture lovers, and sports fans. When you think of the great cocktail cities though, you probably think of New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and New Orleans. Chicago should be near the top of that list too.
Chicago has a rich cocktail history and some of the best and most interesting cocktail spots in the country as well. If you love a good drink, the Second City should be near the top of your list of cities to visit. Here is what you need to know about the Chicago cocktail scene and five great reasons why Chicago is a great destination for cocktail lovers.
There’s a rich history of drinking in this town
Chicago has a long, storied history with drinking that started even before it was incorporated in 1833. However, it wasn’t until Chicago (and America as a whole) wasn’t allowed to drink when Chicago’s history with booze came to the national forefront.
The Eighteenth Amendment – passed in 1917 and implemented in 1920 – outlawed alcohol in the country. This Prohibition Era led to the rise of a secret drinking culture, led by bootleggers and gangsters. Many of the most famous gangsters of this era hailed from the Chicagoland area, including Big Jim Colosimo, Bugs Moran, and the most notorious of them all, Al Capone.
The amendment was repealed in 1933 and ever since, drinking and bar culture has helped shape each of Chicago’s 77 individual neighborhoods. Each has its own culture within the greater Chicago drinking ethos. The city is also the birthplace of some great cocktails such as the Chicago Fizz and the Chicago Cocktail.
It Has Internationally Renowned Cocktail Bars
The Windy City is home to a number of internationally renowned cocktail bars, with mixologists and beverage directors that are at the top of their profession and will prepare you a truly unique and unforgettable cocktail.
One of the biggest names in the Chicago cocktail scene is Paul McGee. He was the brains behind the renowned Three Dots and a Dash, a high-end cocktail speakeasy tiki bar. McGee left the group behind that bar and recently opened Lost Lake, another tiki bar in Logan Square that is on the cutting edge of the Chicago cocktail scene.
Violet Hour is another top cocktail spot worth visiting. They boast a James Beard Award-winning cocktail program and are well-known for their rotating menu of seasonal, artisanal cocktails.
The rooftop bars offer great drinks and better views
If you are sitting in a dark room by yourself, a world-class cocktail will still taste amazing. But let’s be honest: when you pair a world-class cocktail with great ambiance and breathtaking views, then you have perfection. That’s what you get when you enjoy a cocktail at one of Chicago’s famous rooftop bars.
Some of the best rooftop cocktail bars in Chicago can be found atop some of the city’s best hotels. J Parker is one of these places. Sitting atop the boutique Hotel Lincoln, it offers 140 outdoor seats and 55 indoor ones for year-round drinking.
Another place that fits this bill is Cindy’s, a rooftop cocktail bar in the elegant Chicago Athletic Association Hotel. The view of Millennium Park and Lake Michigan is fantastic and so are the cocktails. You can choose from their unique rotating menu or pick a traditional Old Fashioned, which is one of the best in the city. If you’re looking for more Chicago rooftop bar ideas, check out Party Slate’s list.
You can get a cocktail with a 5-star meal
What pairs better with an exceptional cocktail than an exceptional meal? In addition to being a great destination for cocktail lovers, Chicago is a foodie paradise as well. World-class chefs like Rick Bayless, Stephanie Izard, Beverley Kim, and Paul Kahan all have one or more top-class restaurants where you can get a creative, quality cocktail that will complement your dish perfectly.
Possibly the best combination of a celebrity chef and cocktails is chef Grant Achatz and his cocktail bar Aviary. Achatz’s Alinea, named one of the 50 Best Restaurants in the World, is known for astonishing creativity and molecular gastronomy. It’s not surprising the Achatz’s cocktail bar brings that same level of creativity. The cocktails here look like works of art, but the creative combinations and over-the-top theatricality of the presentation make Aviary a bucket list bar for all cocktail lovers.
There are unique spots you won’t find anywhere else
One of the things that draws cocktail lovers to cocktails is that no two of these mixed drinks are ever the same. Every cocktail you have will be slightly different in its own way. Whether it is a classic cocktail made in a slightly different way or a new combination you’ve never thought of, cocktail lovers appreciate uniqueness.
Chicago offers a host of cocktail bars that have a uniqueness to them as well, just like your favorite drink. You can find a cocktail bar that specializes in gin (Scofflaw in Logan Square) or one that loves to pair 90s hip hop with your drink (Moneygun – West Loop). Chicago also has a 70s themed cocktail bar (Punch House – Lower West Side), an art gallery cocktail bar (THe Whistler – Logan Square), or even an underground speakeasy where tarot cards determine the nightly menu (The Drifter – River North). For an actual speakeasy experience, hit the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge in Uptown. Part-owned by members of the Mafia during Prohibition, there’s jazz until the early morning hours and you can sit in Al Capone’s booth near the side door.
If you are a cocktail-lover and Chicago is not at or near the top of your list of best U.S. cocktail cities to visit, it should be. The city has a rich drinking tradition that goes back over a century and is home to some of the best cocktail bars in the world. You can get a cocktail on a rooftop, in a five-star restaurant, or even in a spot that you won’t find anywhere else but the Windy City. No cocktail lover will ever leave Chicago without a newfound respect for the city’s cocktail scene.