Ode to the Neighborhood Bar

All cities have vices. New York has impatience. LA has superficiality. Chicago? It’s a city that drinks. Lots. And the up side of that is: we have spectacular neighborhood bars.

What makes a neighborhood bar? It’s small. The bartenders know the patrons. They don’t serve food or mixed drinks that are too fancy. But: everything is delicious. Neighborhood bars are where you’ll find true Chicago, not the fakely-polished, overly-peppy craziness of River North or Rush Street. You will see real Chicagoans from every walk of life at neighborhood bars. Here are a few of my personal favorites.

First, the friendliest bar in the world: The Whirlaway. Maria and Sergio, the owners, know their neighbors and serve them mighty fine drinks. If you live nearby and invite them to a barbeque, they’ll come. And on Tuesdays, Maria cooks up food for everyone that stops by. The Whirlaway is not fancy in any way, and that makes it all the more loveable.

Lately, I’ve been loving the Fireside. It’s almost too big to be a neighborhood bar, but somehow, it manages its scale well. They have an enormous menu, so you can offset your drinking with good bar food. They also have an above-average assortment of beer on tap. You can play darts here, watch sports, or even sit outside on a year-round patio with sparkly lights. And if you’re a night owl, you can stay here until 4 a.m.

The quintessential Chicago neighborhood bar must be the Charleston. It’s in Bucktown, and it was there long before Bucktown became hip. I remember hearing someone play the fiddle at the Charleson back in the early 1990’s. It’s friendly, out-of-the-way, and just a great place to hang out and drink. I’m not sure why, but it seems to attract lots of architects. Every Chicago neighborhood has a great local bar. That’s where you really get to know this city.

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