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Best of Chicago 2008: Bars & Clubs



Best Jukebox

Reader's Choice: Schubas

As Internet-connected megajukeboxes offering thousands of songs become the status quo, the kind of hyperlocalization that Schubas' juke has is becoming a rarity worth paying tribute to. Stocked with records by Chicago acts and nationally touring Schubas regulars as well as custom DJ mixes from talent buyer Matt Rucins, it has the potential to turn bar's front room into an alternate universe where the 1900s and Office get as much play as Elvis Costello and the Clash. a3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, —Miles Raymer

Readers' Choice: High Dive

a 1938 W. Chicago, 773-235-3483.

Best Outdoor Smoking Area

Reader's Choice: Sheffield's

Those still addicted to the sotweed caught a break when the smoking ban went into effect: beer gardens are exempted, at least until the City Council gets wise to the loophole. In my book the leafy walled courtyard at Sheffield's is as pleasant a place as any to indulge the vice. There's an extensive selection of craft beers on draft or by the bottle, the staff is chipper and superfriendly, and while the tavern attracts its share of Cubs fans, the really obnoxious ones seem to go elsewhere. The patrons tend to be convivial and even clean up after themselves—recycling bins are supplied. a3258 N. Sheffield, 773-281-4989, —Kate Schmidt

Readers' Choice: Fizz and Happy Village (tie)

a 3220 N. Lincoln, 773-348-6088,; 1059 N. Wolcott, 773-486-1512.

Best 4 AM Bar

Reader's Choice: Carol's Pub

The demise of Linda's, the Saxony, the Lakeview Lounge, and Sharon's Hillbilly Heaven (which appears in Dwight Yoakum's 1986 video for "Guitars, Cadillacs," filmed when he was across the street at the Aragon opening for the Violent Femmes) leaves Carol's Pub the sole remaining shitkicker joint in Uptown, where folks from Appalachia settled en masse in the 1950s. Carol's is, to be kind, a dump. The beer is cheap and comes in pitchers, nonironic country music populates the jukebox, and let's not even talk about the bathrooms. But if it ever tried to better itself, where would the barflies who live there during the day wind up? The 4 PM crowd runs the gamut from surly to incoherent, but things brighten up considerably on weekend nights, when house band Diamondback plugs in and ranges through a few decades of country and western (yes, they play both kinds). There's a dance floor if you feel like shaking it, and you can socialize at real tables on real chairs, not those high stools that leave your feet dangling. If you're going to be drinking a lot, and you are, you want both feet on the ground. a 4659 N. Clark, 773-334-2402. —Patrick Daily

Readers' Choice: Carol's Pub

Best Old Man Bar

Reader's Choice: Rite Liquors

Rite Liquors isn't just an old man bar—it's a place to hang out while you're growing old, as many regulars already have in the 90 years this neighborhood slashie has been in business. It's got an impressive liquor selection, from Woodford Reserve premium bourbon to Zubrowka bison grass vodka to Plymouth sloe gin, and the jukebox is just as eclectic, with Latin hip-hop sandwiched between Sarah McLachlan and La Bouche. Open at 7 AM most days, this place attracts early drinkers—and late ones, and everything in between. You can often find the same guys on the stools at noon and midnight, growing ever more wobbly as the day drags on. a1649 W. Division, 773-486-6257. —JuliaThiel

Readers' Choice: Rose's Lounge

a 2656 N. Lincoln, 773-327-4000.

Best Beer Selection

Reader's Choice: Hopleaf

Beer is busting out all over, what with corner bars, gastropubs, and sommeliers all tapping into exotic imports and limited-edition craft brews. But one bar still casts a long shadow: Andersonville's Hopleaf (sorry, Map Room!). Where else can you bounce from a Trippel Karmeliet to a farmhouse-style Ommegang Hennepen to a Three Floyd's Alpha King? (Not that I recommend that... ) With more than 40 beers on tap at any time—half of them Belgian or Belgian-style domestics—and another 300 bottles, there's no better place in town to school yourself in the finer points of beeriana. To keep you from falling off your bar stool, Hopleaf also serves Belgian bistro fare in the back room, including killer mussels (go for the ones steamed in Wittekerke white ale) and frites with aioli. The bartenders have a long-standing reputation for being somewhat surly but in recent years have lightened up a bit. Just don't order an Old Style. a5148 N. Clark, 773-334-9851, —Martha Bayne

Readers' Choice: Hopleaf

Best Whiskey Selection

Reader's Choice: Delilah's

With more than 350 bottles of brown spirits behind the bar, Delilah's has a lock on this category—and not just in Chicago. Whisky magazine named the Lincoln Park bar one of the top five whiskey bars in the world in 2004. Bourbon is the star, but owner Mike Miller knows there's no accounting for taste: you can get everything from $2 shots of Beam (Monday nights) to a $9 toot of the ten-year house blend to a $50 taste of his pre-Prohibition cache of Old Mock. Overachievers might want to check out Miller's free "Whiskies of the World" seminar, offered annually as part of Whiskyfest. a2771 N. Lincoln, 773-472-2771, —Martha Bayne

Readers' Choice: Delilah's

Best Tequila Selection

Reader's Choice: Salud Tequila Lounge

An uncle once told me he pursued his higher education in a bar; to do advanced studies in Mexico's signature spirit, seek early admission to Salud Tequila Lounge. Come between 5 and 6 PM, before booming music obliterates conversation, and sit at the bar. Talk to the knowledgeable barkeeps. And lose the lime and salt—with about 100 select 100 percent agave tequilas, Salud will motivate you to banish Jose Cuervo from your repertoire forever. Food here is an afterthought, and while there's also beer, wine, and margaritas, you'd be cheating yourself if you didn't sip a well-made tequila or three. Tuition: around $8 for most pours, though there are a few superpremium selections for $100-$300. a1471 N. Milwaukee, 773-235-5577, —David Hammond

Readers' Choice: Salud Tequila Lounge

Best Wine Bar

Reader's Choice: In Fine Spirits

The paint's barely dry on this sleek but cozy wine bar, from the owners of the adjacent In Fine Spirits retail store, but it's already a hot spot on an Andersonville strip dominated by lambics and glogg. The ample menu of accessibly priced glasses and flights is dominated by New World wines and augmented with classic cocktails and a choice selection of craft beer. There's an abbreviated rotating menu of cheese, charcuterie, and heftier plates like salmon poached in Unibroue 17 or seared lollipop lamb chops. And, of course, should you fall for a particular juice, you can always come back when the store's open and make it your own. a 5420 N. Clark, 773-334-9463, —Martha Bayne

Readers' Choice: Webster's Wine Bar a 1480 W. Webster, 773-868-0608,

Best Contemporary Cocktail

Reader's Choice: The Violet Hour

The latest incarnation of Terry Alexander's perpetually evolving space—which formerly housed Mod and Del Toro—is supposed to be inspired by Prohibition-era speakeasies, but despite old-timey techniques and nostalgic names like the Sidecar, the Violet Hour's ever-changing drinks menu is all about exploring new ideas in intoxicology. On a recent visit the Fairfield Manhattan—Bulleit bourbon, pine liqueur, and a rinse of Laphroaig ten year—reimagined the fusty grandpa drink as an earthy, herbal adventure, and the pulque our server insisted we try is a tribute to the bar's house-made bitters, in this case a mix of blood orange and chocolate whose high notes lifted the tequila skyward. a1520 N. Damen, 773-252-1500. —MilesRaymer

Readers' Choice: The Violet Hour

Best Bartender

Reader's Choice: Geoffrey Wilson, Underbar

Any number of the mixmasters at the Matchbox or Violet Hour could take this award—even one of the old salts at the Green Mill would be a fine pick. But Geoffrey Wilson would rather sacrifice his tips than mix a less than perfect—or stupid—cocktail. At Weegee's he didn't slap backs or listen to you cry in your beer. Nor would he make you a Cosmo or allow you to pollute a North Shore gin martini with an olive (twists only). But put yourself in his hands and he'd pour the finest, most balanced negroni in the city. "I don't care if you like me or not," he says. "If you order another drink, I won." Sadly, he poured his last classic cocktail there last month, but you can still find him Mondays and Fridays at the less cocktail-friendly Underbar, where he'll still fix you a fine Manhattan. a3243 N. Western, 773-404-9363. —Mike Sula

Readers' choice: Shane Witt, Sidetrack

a3349 N. Halsted, 773-477-9189,

Best Free Food

Reader's Choice: The bar at Myron & Phil's

At this Lincolnwood steak house, the Jewish answer to Gene & Georgetti, you can make a meal in the bar alone, where stiff well-poured drinks are offset by quality snacks: chips and salsa, Merkt's cheese on Ritz crackers, and occasionally some salty toasted garlic bialys. The hospitality extends to the dining room, where fressers sit on big studded leather chairs that could've been upholstered out of Rob Halford's codpieces and meals commence with the relish tray—an antiquated and magnanimous gesture that includes bialys, thick slices of pumpernickel, pickled tomatoes and peppers, and chopped liver. a 3900 W. Devon, Lincolnwood, 847-677-6663, —Mike Sula

Readers' choice: Fizz

a 3220 N. Lincoln, 773-348-6088,


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