Happy hour is only a recent phenomenon in Chicago, as lawmakers only allowed drink specials in 2015 (a longstanding state law made it illegal citing safety worries). In Chicago, bars and restaurants are permitted to offer deals for a certain amount of time per week.
For all that legal hopscotch, COVID struck in 2020 and work-from-home culture mixed with worries about on-premise dining and drinking pushed happy hour specials far down the list of priorities.
But with the advent of vaccines, customers are returning, even as COVID rates tick up. Tourists have returned to Downtown Chicago, and some workers have followed, though not in huge numbers. Some business continue to operate at scaled back hours. That’s prompted downtown chamber groups to revise its message, trying to lure locals to patronize the area: “downtown isn’t just for executives.”
Downtown workers have long been the engine that’s motivated bar owners to offer after happy hour specials. That’s why not a lot of bars are offering the deals. With that mind, the following list also includes some great bars for early evening drinks, the kind of relaxed spots that offer a ton in ambience. Happy hour is about more than deals.
But for those who are looking for specials, now that many bars are repositioning the deals hoping to expand that customer base. Either way, there are some great specials to be enjoyed downtown and in neighborhoods near in the vicinity.
Check out the Eater Chicago’s guide to the essential happy hour bars in the city. And don’t be afraid to share your favorite happy hour spot in the comments.
For updated information on coronavirus cases, please visit the city of Chicago’s COVID-19 dashboard. Health experts consider dining out to be a high-risk activity for the unvaccinated; it may still pose a risk for the vaccinated, especially in areas with substantial COVID transmission. The latest CDC guidance is here; find a COVID-19 vaccination site here.