Ghosts, Stained Glass and Tater Tots: Chicago’s Best Dive Bars

Crack out some cash and get ready to forget what time it is

April 25, 2023 7:00 am
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Chicago does not lack quality dive bars — by some reckonings, including mine, the best of all possible bars. At one point, there were 200 neighborhood taverns throughout the city. 

It’s important to realize what was once a dive may no longer be a dive. For example, the updated Carol’s is not a dive. I spent my 21st birthday at Carol’s — the original Carol’s, under previous ownership — which happened to be a Monday. Pitchers at Carol’s used to cost $5 on Monday. It was quite affordable to drink like a pro. Now, they don’t offer pitchers and they’re closed on Mondays. Which is probably a good business decision, but definitely not a good characteristic for a dive bar. And they’re way cleaner. The TVs at Carol’s are new flatscreens. They’re in the 21st century. Carol’s is no longer a dive. 

There are still dozens of fantastic dive bars throughout Chicago and the suburbs. These are eight of the best. If you’d like more suggestions, go have a drink at any of them, and you’ll get about 80 more dive bar suggestions. 

Bernice’s Tavern, Bridgeport

Ring the doorbell. Do not be afraid to ring the doorbell. You need to ring the doorbell to get in. But Bernice’s is far from a speakeasy. It’s the exact place you want to watch a Sox game. Or the exact place you want to go after attending a Sox game. This place checks most every requirement for a dive bar, including being cash-only, but it’s way friendlier than its doorbell may make it seem. 

Chipp Inn, Noble Square

One of the best dive bars kind of hidden from two major streets — in this case Ashland and Chicago — Chipp Inn has been around longer than you. Probably. Definitely. Since 1897, this corner location has served locals and people who consider moving to Noble Square after a visit. Its bare-bones aesthetic — a bar with seating for six to eight, a few tables and a pool table — is the blueprint for a simple, great bar. This is the kind of place you could bring your grandparent or newly 21-year-old friend and have an equally good time. It’ll be a better time if you’re a fan of Hamm’s.  

The Innertown Pub, Ukrainian Village 

What a great sign. Just perfect. If you like this sign, you’re going to like Innertown Pub. While there’s a pool table and gorgeous stained glass windows, you’re probably not going to play pool or remember the glass art. It’s the place you go on a date or with a few friends and drink until you’re a little too loud and have the kind of time you want to repeat every weekend. Innertown Pub is one of the places that drew folks to Ukrainian Village/Wicker Park/West Town, and which every bar run by a restaurant group in those neighborhoods now attempts to emulate.  

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L&L Tavern, Lakeview

There are fewer and fewer bars like the L&L near Wrigley Field. At only four blocks from the park and barely a block from the Belmont Red/Brown/Purple Line stop, it’s almost like drinking at a Cubs bar when Harry Caray was still calling games. It’s also nothing like drinking at a Cubs bar. You’re not going to this place to cheer for anyone; it just happens to be near the stadium.

Liar’s Club, Lincoln Park

Liar’s Club is barely in Lincoln Park. The bar and venue, just west of Ashland on Fullerton, doesn’t get a lot of foot traffic. If you end up at Liar’s Club, you made it your destination. You do not accidentally end up at Liar’s Club. It’s for the best: The place has been attracting loyal punks for decades, and the lack of light entering the place only helps. If you prefer bands that prefer the darker side of life (Motörhead’s Lemmy greets you when you walk in, the Misfits’ Fiend logo is on their merch, the clientele and booking is almost entirely lifer metalheads, punks and rockers) and true crime (some claim the place is haunted) Liar’s Club is your heaven. 

Simon’s Tavern, Andersonville

Ultimately, the true test of a dive bar is how well it allows patrons to lose hours inside, while it’s light outside. Simon’s scores high. The 1950s-era neon sign makes it appear classier than its interior. The inside is not classy. Please know this is a great bar. 

Skylark, Pilsen

The best dive bar tater tots? The best remnant of Pilsen from 20 years ago? The best-looking classic dive bar? The best tap list featuring mostly Midwestern beers? The dive bar that would most likely not enjoy being called a dive bar?  It’s all Skylark.

Whirlaway Lounge, Logan Square 

This old-school, wood-paneled Blackhawks bar is a reminder that most bars didn’t start out as bar concepts. They were bars — that served beer at a reasonable price, that put up photographs of beloved patrons and newspaper clippings of hometown sports glory. It can still be that way. Whirlaway is still this way. And still cash-only.


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