Best Beer Selection
rThe Reader's ChoiceThe Publican
This year a newbie barreled onto the scene to vie with the Hopleaf, the Map Room, and Quenchers—and if nothing else the Publican deserves credit for its sweeping ambition. Overseen by passionate "sommelier" Michael McAvena, the beer program at Paul Kahan's Fulton Street pub aims to showcase beer's still-underrated capacity to pair with food just as well as the finest wines.
McAvena's not going for novelty, though he's excited by brews like Three Floyds' Dwarven Hammer—a brown ale made with Intelligentsia coffee. Rather, he's out to champion the local guys and give some love to small producers in Belgium and Britain whose products are masterful interpretations of classic styles like farmhouse ales and lambics—as opposed to the 12-percent hopaholic knockouts popular among the extreme beer set, which'll burn your palate off by the second course.
The restaurant's new monthly Brewmaster's Series offers a four-course dinner ($45) with beer pairings from a regional superstar ($15-$25) on the last Sunday of each month. Goose Island brewmaster Greg Hall kicked things off in January; the March installment featured beers from Three Floyds, including a dark wheat dopplebock cooked up with Kahan and McAvena. Offerings from Saint Feuillien and Jolly Pumpkin are in the chute for April and May. a837 W. Fulton, 312-733-9555, thepublicanrestaurant.com. —Martha Bayne
&Our readers' choiceHopleaf
a 5148 N. Clark, 773-334-9851, hopleaf.com.
Best Happy Hour Snacks
rThe Reader's ChoiceBig Chicks
Dollar burger specials can vary pretty widely—and usually they vary from greasy little sliders to institutional beef patties served dry on the bun. But on Mondays the Uptown gay bar Big Chicks, with its 50s-diner-meets-Mapplethorpe vibe, serves up juicy, delicious quarter-pound beef patties with lettuce, tomato, pickle spear, and a choice of either crispy battered fries or organic mixed greens; another buck gets you a premium topper like Brie, bacon, or avocado. Pair that with two-bucks-off beer pitchers and $4 Mandarin Crush cocktails (Absolut Mandarin and cranberry juice) and suddenly you can afford to go out on a Monday night. The only challenge is finding a spot to sit—the competition for tables gets fierce, so hunker down on a bench at the back and pray the waiter can find you. a5024 N. Sheridan, 773-728-5511, bigchicks.com. —Bianca Jarvis
&Our readers' choiceCasey Moran's
a3660 N. Clark, 773-755-4444, caseymorans.com.
Best Nonmusical Entertainment
rThe Reader's ChoiceHappy Village
The spacious, recently renovated beer garden may be what's turned this East Village rumpus room into a hot spot, but it's the Ping-Pong that really seems to keep them coming back. The two professional-size tables play host to leagues in the back room every Sunday and Tuesday from about 7 to 11 PM. Twelve teams of three compete, the odd person serving as a substitute. The season runs about two-and-a-half months and culminates in a championship tournament. Sign up is at the bar, and a season's play is $45 per team. On other nights the tables are open to anyone, and play is free—just trade your ID at the bar for a paddle. a1059 N. Wolcott, 773-486-1512. —James H. Ewert Jr.
&Our readers' choicePecha Kucha night at Martyrs'
Creative types get six minutes and 40 seconds and up to 20 slides to make a presentation. aNext "volume" Tue 6/2, 8-11 PM, 3855 N. Lincoln, 773-404-9494, pecha-kucha.org/cities/chicago, $10, 21+.
Best Place to Dance Your Ass Off
rThe Reader's ChoiceThe Hideout
It may not have the best sound system in town, the DJ ia more likely to be someone you've seen around the record store than someone you've read about somewhere, and there's nary a laser in sight, but the category here is "where to dance your ass off," not "fanciest place to get your wiggle on," and for that it's hard to beat the Hideout. The back room's cabinlike decor lends the DJ nights it frequently hosts a bit of a house-party vibe, the beers come fast and cheap, and the complete absence of pretentiousness has inspired many a normally levelheaded person to act a complete fool on the dance floor. a1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433, hideoutchicago.com. —Miles Raymer
&Our readers' choiceThe Hideout
rThe Reader's ChoiceLincoln Karaoke
In Korea it's called a noraebang—a karaoke joint with private rooms where your warbly, off-key racket won't embarrass you or your friends. Lincoln Karaoke's corridor of 14 variously sized spaces features thousands of songs in Korean, Chinese, Spanish, and Tagalog as well as almost 4,000 in English. But it's the extras that pack the place with bachelor, birthday, and graduation parties every weekend. Owner Steve Han is wont to ply celebrants with a round of dipsomaniac-friendly shots like the Rocky Mountain Bear Fucker or the Naughty Boyfriend, or birthday cake, or bottles of bubbly; and other drinks at the bar run cheap and deep. There's small menu of Korean dishes as well, but a free plate of salty-sweet Korean snacks comes gratis. And lousy singing isn't the only bad behavior privacy tends to encourage: if big hair and fake boobs loosen your pipes, Han can summon up a looped montage of early-90s soft-core porn on the video screens. a5526 N. Lincoln, 773-895-2299. —Mike Sula
&Our readers' choiceHidden Cove
a5336 N. Lincoln, 773-275-3955.
Best Drink Specials
rThe Reader's ChoiceRelax on Milwaukee
Relax straddles the divide between gentrifying Logan Square and blue-collar Avondale: crotchety old regulars camp out in the back of the huge bar by the dart board and pool table while kids from the Rat Patrol bicycle gang hang out in front, drinking dollar beers and eating popcorn from a greasy machine embellished with a picture of Rick James. The youthful bartenders play anything from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to Diana Ross, and they aren't afraid to abuse unruly regulars as needed. One thing all the patrons can agree on is that it's ridiculously cheap to drink here, even by dive standards. There's a dirt-cheap special every night of the week, including $4 PBR pitchers on Mondays and $1 Stroh's and Old Milwaukee with $2 Old Times whiskey chasers on Thursdays. Oddly, the weekend specials are the best—$2.50 microbrews on Saturdays from a small but decent list including Great Lakes, Goose Island, and New Holland's Mad Hatter IPA, and $2.50 giant Bloody Marys and $1 PBR on Sundays for "Bloody With the Beatles." a2937 N. Milwaukee, no phone, relaxonmilwaukee.com. —Bianca Jarvis
&Our readers' choiceCasey Moran's
a3660 N. Clark, 773-755-4444, caseymorans.com.
Best New Cocktail
rThe Reader's ChoiceBar DeVille
When Bar DeVille opened in the middle of the never-ending winter, managing partner and Violet Hour/Del Toro alum Brad Bolt introduced a particularly springlike drink. He based the Songbird on the classic Prohibition-era Last Word, and says it went through about 20 incarnations before he settled on the right alchemy of Martin Miller's Westbourne Strength gin, green Chartreuse, fresh lemon juice, and—in place of the original maraschino liqueur—St-Germain, the French elderflower liqueur, which gives the drink a perfume that blooms from the glass like a spring day in the Alps. Bolt says he named the potion for a song by the late Richmond-based emo band Engine Down but also for an ex-girlfriend, whom I can only surmise is a very flattered woman. a1958 W. Huron, 312-929-2349. —Mike Sula
&Our readers' choiceThe Violet Hour
No cocktail specified. a 1520 N. Damen, 773-252-1500, theviolethour.com.
rThe Reader's ChoiceStella's Sports Bar
The jukebox at Stella's doesn't get more of my dollar bills than any other just because it's located in my favorite little boozing spot in the city, although that probably helps. But years' worth of suggestions from the bar's eclectic cast of regulars have yielded a machine stocked with dozens of albums that any well-rounded record collection should contain. On a given visit you're likely to hear Run-DMC, Marty Robbins, Slayer, and Fugazi in close proximity, along with a grip of tracks from essential classic rock albums. More adventurous types can dig into the juke's assortment of Polish pop and rock, which occasionally turns up some psyched-out garage-rock scorcher from a band whose name I can't even begin to pronounce. a935 N. Western, 773-384-0077. —Miles Raymer
&Our readers' choiceHigh Dive
a938 W. Chicago, 773-235-3483.
Best DJ Lineup
rThe Reader's ChoiceSmart Bar
Chicago's club community has grown so strong in recent years that even rooms the size of dive bars can regularly pull in hot-shit out-of-town DJs. But the scene's granddaddy still has the most consistently high-quality and eclectic lineup. Although every trendsetter worth his XLR8R profile winds up behind the decks at Smart Bar at some point, the club's never depended solely on DJs du jour—it regularly hosts representatives of European styles that are still only niche-market size in the States, and the steady stream of old-school house and techno innovators is a tribute to the club's longtime commitment to these styles. a3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203, smartbarchicago.com. —Miles Raymer
&Our readers' choiceSmart Bar and Sonotheque (tie)
a1444 W. Chicago, 312-226-7600, sonotheque.net.
Best Outdoor Smoking Area
rThe Reader's ChoiceClub Foot
The outdoor smoking area at Ukrainian Village standby Club Foot—a diamond-shaped corner stoop with a bucket of sand for butts—is humble compared to the lavish beer garden at nearby Happy Village, but it's long on charm. It's the kind of stoop that's made for gossip, and alternately provides shelter in bad weather and a comfortable place to stand and chat in fair. The minimal street noise means it's possible to have a conversation and still listen to whatever DJ is on the decks that night (they usually spin old-school rock and punk). As an added bonus, there's a good chance that one of the two tamale guys that frequent the bar will swing by with his cooler. Back inside, enjoy $4.25 call drinks, Tetris and pinball machines, and a vast collection of toys and rock paraphernalia on display. a1824 W. Augusta, 773-489-0379. —Bianca Jarvis
&Our readers' choiceHappy Village
a1059 N. Wolcott, 773-486-1512.
Best Douchebag Watching
rThe Reader's ChoiceSmall Bar on Division
Wrigleyville, the Viagra Triangle, and megaclubs like Crobar have been and will continue to be the city's douchebag strongholds, but while they all provide ample opportunity to witness a staggering range of assholish behavior, they're also places where it's hard to find yourself an observation point that is itself clear of douchebags, forcing you to embed yourself among them like a war reporter or primate researcher. A better alternative is to post up at the still mostly douche-free Small Bar on Division—preferably in the summer when there's sidewalk seating —and enjoy a microbrew or a Belgian as you watch the parade of party trolleys and luxury SUVs disgorge their conquering armies of jerks. a2954 N. Albany, 773-509-9888, thesmallbar.com. —Miles Raymer
&Our readers' choiceJohn Barleycorn in Wrigleyville
a3524 N. Clark, 773-549-6000, johnbarleycorn.com.