Chicago's Essential Happy Hours

  • by Ashok Selvam and Naomi Waxman
  • 07/27/22

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.

Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.
If you book a reservation through an Eater link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics policy.

Uvae Kitchen and Wine Bar

This Andersonville bar is know for multi-course dinners paired elegantly with wine or unique cocktails. Its happy hour starts at 5 p.m. with deals on bubbly, cocktail shrimp, and oysters.

Eli Tea Bar

Chicago’s only true sober bar is also LGBTQ welcoming with plenty of daily events including drag bingo and trivia. The bar, which specializes in tea, doesn’t offer happy hour specials, but for those who want to gather without booze, Eli Tea provides a tranquil space without judgments.

A person pours tea out of a teapot into one of three glass mugs filled with red tea, fruit, and cinnamon sticks.
Michigan-based Eli Tea has opened an outpost in Andersonville.
 Kim Kovacik/Eater Chicago

Nobody's Darling

Nobody’s Darling has been a revelation since opening, bringing tons of energy to an otherwise quiet stretch of residential Andersonville. The bar’s owners are both Black and LGBTQ, and those qualities are reflected in how the tavern is operated (a drink menu launched in June is dedicated to Pride with themed names like All About Love; the bar also held a festive Juneteenth celebration). While this bar isn’t located near downtown, it’s the type of bar that workers living far away have turned into a destination. And that vibe is more important than any drink special, thus making it a great choice for happy hour.

A hand places an orange peel garnish inside a rocks glass on a bar top.
Nobody’s Darling is one of just two Black-owned queer bars in Chicago.
 Garrett Sweet/Eater Chicago

The Victor Bar

The Victor Bar was a pioneer in the way it brought top-notch craft cocktails to a neighborhood tavern. Other bars have followed the template, giving drinkers a choice away from downtown for fancy drinks. The bar’s decor is meant to evoke Paris, and it’s a cute, unpretentious spot to catch up with friends or for an early date. 

Mother's Ruin

Mother’s Ruin is the Chicago port of a popular N.Y. bar and so far it’s delivered the goods in making this classy dive feel like a welcoming bar run by locals while adapting the best practices of the original. There are daily food and drink specials (the food menu is criminally underrated with tasty burgers and fried chicken sandwiches). The danger here is coming for happy hour and feeling so great that you let your hair down and stay longer than anticipated. It might be a slow morning tomorrow.

A cocktail in a coupe glass stands on a wooden table.
This New York export brings big energy to a small space in Avondale.
 Garrett Sweet/Eater Chicago

J9 Wine Bar

This Lincoln Park wine bar thrives thanks to the after-theater crowd (the Steppenwolf is down the street), plus after-dinner groups thanks to the myriad of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises’ restaurants in the area. It recently underwent a large expansion which makes it more comfortable when some of the world’s best wine producers show up to show off their brands for happy hour. Check the bar’s social media for the latest. This bar is great for folks who don’t mind learning something during happy hour.

Dorian’s

This Wicker Park bar sports the best sound system of any happy hour venue, as it was built around music. Concerts happen regularly on the stage, and customers will have to enter through an actual record store where patrons can thumb through vinyl on display. The bar offers cocktail specials Wednesday through Sunday. Check social media for the latest. Dorian’s is perfect for those who want to hear live music inside an intimate and well designed space.

Sparrow

One of the city’s best bars is tucked behind Rush and Division and Mariano Park. For drinkers fed up with those shenanigans, Sparrow is a moody spot patterned off of Havana’s rum bars. Find draft beer and wine specials Wednesday through Friday.

Queen Mary

This Heisler bar features a feint nautical theme with sharable drinks in tribute to the British navy. For its happy hour, find specials on Sunday and Monday on oysters and martinis.

LUXBAR

Luxbar, the Gold Coast bar from Gibsons, offers a variety of food and drink specials on a regular basis. Find specials on wine, beer, and food. The popular Luxburger is often on special.

Rootstock Wine & Beer Bar

One of Chicago’s best spots for a glass wine and a bite, Rootstock is unlike any other bar in the city thanks to a hip wine selection and a decor that feels part Europe, part New York City. This is the type of happy hour spot for those who aren’t too buttoned up.

All Together Now

In West Town, this cute wine shop and restaurant is perfect for those who want a glass of natural wine and to bring a few provisions for home enjoyment. The staff is most knowledgeable and friendly, and this is the type of venue where patrons can start early and make lunchtime happy hour time.

Tanta Chicago

Tanta, the Peruvian mini chain, has weekday food and drink specials that change out regularly starting at 5 p.m. each days. These specials are restricted to the bar. Check social media for more information. This happy hour is boosted because the restaurant also has a rooftop.

Bub City

Bub City’s focus is on barbecue and bourbon — though management has recently revealed a love for malört. The restaurant, owned by Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, has a county music feel dropped into the middle of River North. Find specials on burgers, beer, and cocktails on weekdays starting at 5 p.m.

Bar Goa, an Indian Gastropub

Bar Goa shows off regional Indian food by diving into cuisine influenced for the Portuguese occupation of Goa, a coastal town on the eastern part of the subcontinent. For the drinks, the bar uses Indian flavors and fuses them with international flavors, including tiki. Find specials on appetizers like croquettes and chicken wings, plus deals on cocktails, beer, and wine.

A person places a lime garnish on top of a cocktail in a tall collins glass.
Bar Goa brings the beach to River North.
 Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Good Funk

From the owners of Beatnik and Michelin-starred Porto, this natural wine bar features views of the Chicago River. It’s a narrow space perfect for groups and dates. GoodFunk offers food and specials on bottles of wine on weekdays from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Lone Wolf

This bar is styled like a dive giving patrons along trendy Randolph Street a more casual breed of tavern that specializes in cocktails and beers from Three Floyds Brewing. The food comes from Claudio Velez, Chicago’s legendary Tamale Guy. Find daily cocktail, shot and beer, and other specials on late weekday afternoons with the exception of Friday when the specials start late morning.

Bar Mar by José Andrés

Operated locally by Gibsons Restaurant Group, Bar Mar is a splashy new seafood spot that bears José Andrés’s name (he’s the famous humanitarian chef behind World Central Kitchen). The space is gorgeous with large glass windows and two bars on the first floor (the second-floor steakhouse is a separate operation). Bar Mar was made for the happy hour crowd. Find plenty of raw bar items and fancy drinks with elaborate presentations.

A beautiful, airy bar space.
An elegant octopus sculpture hangs over the bar at Bar Mar.
 Garrett Sweet/Eater Chicago

Juice @ 1340 BWS

This is a modern slashie, a hybrid liquor store and bar with some creative wine selections from superstar sommelier Derrick Westbrook and company. The bar doesn’t have regularly scheduled happy hours — customers will have to check the bar’s Instagram account. But when they announce their specials, often in conjunction with an event, it’s wise to mark those calendars and expect a fun time with discounts on cocktails and glasses of wine.

Ceres Cafe

Inside the Board of Trade building, Ceres Cafe carries a reputation for serving some of the city’s most powerful. It’s open for breakfast in the morning, which is a blessing or a curse. There are weekday specials, but a can of coke and glass of rum might be the most special drink offered at a Chicago bar.

Brando's Speakeasy

This South Loop bar attracts Columbia students and professional alike. It’s divided into two space with the cocktail speakeasy in back. Look for $5 select drinks daily from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Nine Bar

This is Chinatown’s only dedicated cocktail bar, as ownership has converted the dining room at Moon Palace Express. The interiors are dark and lounge like, with a few small tables for those wanting to indulge in the flavor-packed menu (the fries and pork belly are highlights). The drinks are also no jokes with drinks that mine Thailand and China for inspiration. Every visit to Nine Bar is a happy hour.

A green cocktail in a tall collins glass with a red dragon print.
Nine Bar is Chinatown’s first devoted cocktail spot.
 Kim Kovacik/Eater Chicago

 

Source: Eater Chicago

Work With Us

The Hajdu Group consistently exceeds clients’ expectations by providing a highly-personalized, collaborative, and stress-free real estate experience. Let us show you why our concierge service and strategic approach works for our buyers and sellers.Consistently winning multiple offer situations and selling for top dollar. Ask about our complimentary staging consultation and seller home warranty.

Follow Us on Instagram