Bar Reviews

Deadbolt: The non-dive, dive bar of your dreams

Logan Square

Drink Quality: ★★★★★

Ambience: ★★★★★

Affordability rating: ★★★

Overall rating: ★★★★★

I really liked everything about this bar.  It was chic, chill, and comfortable.  I don’t like dive bars and a lot of the “new dive bars” are trying to be something that they aren’t with people experiencing the same issues.  But this place is unique in that it has chill, dive bar vibes but isn’t gross like most dive bars.  The cocktails are delicious, unique, and the bartender that was there this past Friday night was very knowledgeable and provided great customer service to us.  He wasn’t annoyed at us asking questions about the cocktails and was very responsive.

We had a banana rum old fashioned and another rum-based drink that had spices in it.  They were very tasty and not super sugary.  I also really liked the music.  They had ambient electronic music playing and that’s so hard to find in Logan Square.  Most places that have ambient electronic are in River North with annoying people but this was a perfect chic vibe.  I also liked that the walls were painted black (or at least a darker color) and there was cool wall art painted over the main wall color.  It had a very nice aesthetic and it wasn’t crowded, which I really liked on a Friday night around closing.  I definitely look forward to coming here again.

East Room: Get your dance on without compromising yourself

Logan Square

Drink Quality: ★★★

Ambience: ★★★★★

Affordability rating: ★★★

Overall rating: ★★★★

East Room is one of my favorite places to go dancing.  It has really improved its vibe in the past year to the extent that it has become a hip hop/rap/trap/footwork/electronic dance place.  They have really great DJ’s almost every week (especially on Thursday nights) that are unique and an asset to Chicago.  I enjoy that East Room isn’t a club, but it’s not yet another divey, white hipster space in Logan.   It’s one of the few bars in Logan that is actually racially diverse.

You can just drink and talk and then when you’re bored of that you can dance and vice versa.  I also like that it’s a 4 am bar because the other 4 am options in the area are not pleasant (the OWL), so now there’s a decent place you can go dancing when you’re not ready to call it a night.  The dance floor does get crowded sometimes though and people can get annoying/bump into you but that isn’t a problem particular to East Room.

The drinks are alright.  The cocktails are fine for the price, but I think they could be a $1 cheaper.  The cash only thing is annoying, which is one of the reasons why I didn’t give it 5 stars.  The bartenders can also give you attitude and not be very attentive, but not all of them are like that.

Estereo: A sunny cafe/cocktail bar no matter what time of the year it is

Logan Square

Drink Quality: ★★★★

Ambience: ★★★★★

Affordability rating: ★★★

Overall rating: ★★★★

I really like the vibes, atmosphere, and typically like the drinks here.  I really enjoy that you can feel like you are partially outside while being inside.  It’s a summery feel so I am not torn about whether I am inside or outside.  I always enjoy the music, generally non-annoying people, and great service from the bartenders.  The doorman is really nice too and doesn’t yell at people to leave, instead he gently tells people to finish their drinks and get ubers.  I really don’t like being yelled at, especially by men, so I really appreciated his approach.  This bar is perfect for 1-1 hangouts with friends or dates.  You can sit at the bar where you can get a decent view of the room or at a private table.  They usually have pleasant “Latin-themed” music that pairs perfectly with the summery vibes of this place.

I love mezcal and cocktails and there’s a lot of that here.  I have been there a few times  and usually love the drinks (have had the pisco, mezcal, and rum drinks).  The last time I was there though, the drinks were kind of sugary even for me and I don’t drink a lot of hard liquor.  The mezcal drink was close to cough syrup and the frozen drink was hard to swallow.  If I had just been there once I would have given this place three stars, but I have had much better cocktails there before so I am not sure what was happening.   I am hoping it was just an off night and they will continue to have good cocktails.

J9 Wine Bar: Decent Wine, Meh Lincoln Park Atmosphere

Lincoln Park

Drink Quality: ★★★★

Ambience: ★★★

Affordability rating: ★★★

Overall rating: ★★★

I thought the wine here was really good as it’s a wine bar.  I enjoyed the selection of wines, specifically the rose.  I had a glass of the sparkling rose and it was refreshing and not overly sweet.  We sat in the corner by the window and it was nice and comfortable.  They brought a rolling tray over which I really liked.

IMG_0627
I didn’t like that they had a tv with sports, it made it feel tacky since it’s a wine bar.  We had the cheese platter and there was nothing really unique about it.  I have had all of those cheeses before even though they were great (a smoked gouda, brie type of cheese, and a rosemary asiago).  The bread was dry and not fresh, which was a huge disappointment.  The crackers were okay but I could have bought them at the grocery store.  The olives were great though and there was a generous portion.  I think the cheese platter could have been more interesting with some jam or something.  It was a bit basic.

Lost Lake: Where your Tiki drink fantasies come true

Logan Square

Drink Quality: ★★★★★

Ambience: ★★★★★

Affordability rating: ★★★

Overall rating: ★★★★★

This is by far one of my favorite bars in Chicago.  Unfortunately, it’s gotten more popular/crowded with tourists so I go here less than before because I don’t like waiting outside in a long line, especially in the winter.

I love everything about Lost Lake.  I love the ambience, decor, music, the service is great along with the Hawaiian shirts (yeah I know it’s corny but it’s endearing), and the drinks are heavenly.  Everything is just very well curated and while it could easily become corny, it isn’t somehow.

My standard drink is the Banana Daiquiri because it tastes like a rum smoothie that you’d drink on a fantasy tropical island and it’s like two drinks in one so you get pretty tipsy easily.  I have tried their other drinks as well and haven’t been disappointed.  They have sweet, fruitier drinks but stronger, coffee-flavored drinks.

The service is also always very quick and on point.  I’ll have to come back here on a weeknight so I don’t have to wait in the long line.

Subterranean: Multiple Options for Viewing Your Favorite Bands and DJ’s

Wicker Park

Drink Quality: ★★★

Ambience: ★★★★★

Affordability rating: ★★★★★

Overall rating: ★★★★

Subterranean is definitely a staple of realness in Wicker Park in a sea of annoying sports bars.  I’ve come here to see shows and DJ events like Dance Yourself Clean.  Each time I come here, I’ve enjoyed my experience because there are options for viewing the main spectacle.  You can be on the main floor or you can go upstairs and look down to see your favorite band.  I prefer to go upstairs since I like having my space and I usually can’t see when there’s tall people around.

I also like that they have another bar for just general dancing/DJ’s so again if you want options, this is your place.  They are unpretentious, which is refreshing for a venue in Wicker Park.  They also have a coat check for $2, which is more affordable than other coat checks in the area.

Their drinks are pretty affordable as well (about $6 for a vodka soda), which adds to the chill vibes here.  The bartenders are quick and friendly so you don’t have to stand there being ignored for ten minutes.

Subterranean has an excellent sound system so it’s a great venue to see live shows.  I also like that they have different types of music nights ranging from reggae to indie electronica so they can cater to different tastes.  I hope Subterranean continues to have its staying power.

The Empty Bottle: The Most Down to Earth Music Venue of all Music Venues

Ukrainian Village

Drink Quality: ★★★

Ambience: ★★★★★

Affordability rating: ★★★★★

Overall rating: ★★★★

I appreciate the wide selection of artists/bands that come here.  I am kind of over the whole “Blue Line” (as my friend says) dive bar with homogeneous people and generic rock music vibe, but Empty Bottle stands out from this.  Yes, they have generic rock music and sometimes the typical Blue Line types who are trying to look rustic there.  But being a fan of electronic, hip hop, rap, and shoegaze, even I can find something at the Empty Bottle.  I have gone there many times at this point to hear some really great acts like Jessy Lanza, Teklife, and some of their free Monday night shows and have really enjoyed myself.  I also have been here when they have DJ theme nights like their Motown night or Prince night and have enjoyed myself.  It has a chill, down to earth atmosphere.

Being someone who isn’t a tall, lanky dude, I still have the ability to see the stage because they have the stairs/elevated area, which really makes my experience so much better than at other music venues.  Also, when you’re tired from standing, you can sit on a bench in the pool table area/hang out outside when you need a break from it all.  It’s nice to have those options.

Their drinks are alright, I don’t like cheap beer but their cocktails are fine and I really like that they have wine that is all pretty affordable.  The only thing that’s annoying is that it’s cash only, which I hate because I don’t want to pay for that stupid atm fee.  This is the reason why I took a star off.  The bartenders are okay and can sometimes have attitude.  Other than that, I really like this venue/bar.

The Loyalist: Chill Vibes in the High-Strung West Loop

Neighborhood: West Loop

Affordability: ★★ 1/2

Ambience: ★★★★

Service: ★★★

Drink Quality: ★★★1/2

Overall Rating: ★★★1/2

Tucked in the basement underneath Smyth, The Loyalist seems to be the more introverted sibling of Smyth.  It has a darker, moody, contemporary aesthetic with a cozy vibe.  We came here later on during a Friday night and it was relaxed.  There were just a few people by the bar so it wasn’t crowded, which I appreciated, especially in the West Loop.  The music was eclectic and they played music ranging from The Cure to Girl Talk, which was a wonderful treat.

hx4UXTA6oRGOiqkx7Kg
Invisible Man

The bartender service was decent but I felt that they were more excited about closing.  The cocktail menu had many delicious sounding options.  I had the Invisible Man, which has mezcal, a hint of cinnamon, and shaved ice.  It was very refreshing but felt a tad bit too sweet considering that the smoky Mezcal flavor should have been more prominent.  My drinking companion had the Nighthawk, which had Japanese Whiskey, bitter almond, cherry and white pepper.  The flavors were complex and unique but I also felt like this one was a bit too sweet considering how the scotch flavor should have been more intense.

fqtV8iPvTN2NQrVRIElvYA
The Nighthawk

I like that The Loyalist is a low-key bar for the West Loop but I wasn’t really impressed considering the pricy cost of the cocktails for only descent cocktail quality.  I have not had their food so I cannot speak to that.

The Milk Room: A Brooding Cocktail Environment

This is a guest blog post by cocktail connoisseur and dear friend, Arvin Dang of Logan Square.  While I enjoy cocktails, Arvin’s knowledge of cocktail quality surpasses the typical cocktail drinker.  Take a break and transport yourself to his magical night at The Milk Room.  

Neighborhood: The Loop

Affordability: ★★ 

Ambience: ★★★★1/2

Service: ★★★★★

Food Quality: ★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★1/2

Ol Pal, Photo: Arvin Dang

I’m an expensive date, and for those like me, interested in refined cocktails, with a personal experience between you, your date, and your bartender— I invite you to check out The Milk Room.

Situated between The Game Room and the lobby at the Chicago Athletic Association, The Milk Room is an 8-seater, with spirits dating back to actual speakeasy times. Think of Milk Room as you would a tasting menu through time, and with cocktails curated for you. Milk Room, like many culinary experiences in Chicago is a ticketed event through Tock. Tock, if you’re unfamiliar is a reservation system created by Aviary, Alinea and Next owner Nick Kokanas. Tickets purchased through Tock are applied to your final bill.

We waited patiently in the lobby, enjoying a glass of water before being ushered into the Milk Room for our 7:30pm reservation. We’d purchased a ticketed reservation for two of us, $50 per person. It’s date night, and we had a birthday to celebrate— so we assumed more than two cocktails a person were to come. Expect cocktails to be at minimum $20, with a higher average close to $40 per drink.

Turf Club Martini and Black Cat, Photo: Arvin Dang

Overall experience

Sitting in the corner between the bar and lofty-brick wall, your eyes adjust to a plethora of bottles that are familiar, but dated. Speaking with Steve, our friendly bartender, we explained our typical flavor profiles: herbaceous, bitter, smokey— but not all at once.

He was able to pick out familiar cocktails, and adjust them to match his collection of spirits, and to our tastes.

Ol Pal, Photo: Arvin Dang

The snacks are light, think charcuterie light. We shared a cheese plate (yummy) with a variety of four to taste, fresh bread and house made butter (also yummy)— they pair well with your cocktails, without overpowering them, help mellow a sharp buzz, but not enough to sustain you for a whole meal. The drinks come out frosted, clean, in beautiful glasses— all asking to be sipped slowly, as they’re as strong as they are expensive.

Menu, Photo: Arvin Dang

Like Aviary, and other specialty cocktail spots, plan to come prepared to spend at Milk Room.  In need of a special occasion, I would recommend adding Milk Room following a delicious meal, where you can relax in its brooding environment. And if you’re still up for adventure after, you can swing by the Game Room, or stop downstairs for a milkshake at Shake Shack.

Apéritif, an opener to stimulate your experience

Steven started us with a surprise, welcoming cocktail. Straight up, in beautifully curved shooters, each sip was bitter like a digestif, with a sweet note at the end.

First Course

Ol Pal and Rusty Nail, Photo: Arvin Dang

Steve perused his library of spirits, and returned with two ideas for us, an Ol Pal and Rusty Nail.

Traditional Ol Pal:
  • 1 1/2 ounces bourbon or rye whiskey
  • 3/4 ounce dry vermouth
  • 3/4 ounce Campari
  • Garnish: lemon twist
Traditional Rusty Nail:
  • 2 ounces blended Scotch, such as Famous Grouse
  • 1/2 ounce Drambuie
  • 1 dash of Angostura bitters (optional)

Steve’s twist on both were excellent recommendations. With the Rusty Nail, he swapped Drambuie with a bottle from the 1960’s.

Second Course

Turf Club Martini and Black Cat, Photo: Arvin Dang

Mixing up our tastes, from bitter and herbaceous— to smokey and bitter, Steve recommended a Turf Club Martini and a Black Cat.

Traditional Turf Club Martini:
  • 2 ounces gin
  • 3/4 ounce dry vermouth
  • 1/4 ounce maraschino
  • 1 dash absinthe
  • 1 dash orange bitters
Traditional Black Cat:
  • 2 oz vodka
  • 1 oz kirschwasser (or other cherry brandy)
  • 2 oz cola
  • 2 oz cranberry juice

The Black Cat was very different than described above. Steve swapped vodka with an herbaceous gin, swapped brandy choices, used amaro in place of cola, and didn’t add any cranberry.

Cheers!

Ol Pal, Photo: Arvin Dang

All told, four cocktails, and an aperitif in— we had a delicious buzz, and decided to follow our prix fixe with a heartier meal. Milk Room feels hidden, casual, and it’s a great environment for a special occasion, fancy date night, or celebration. If you’re a fan of the CAA, it’s aesthetic, Milk Room is worth booking.

Blog Post Written by Arvin Dang