An Insider's Guide To Chicago's Best Whisky Bars
Felipe is an award-winning London-based whisky writer, tastings host, drinks competitions judge, and author. He is also a musician and co-founder of The Rhythm and Booze Project, a duo that fuses live music and whisky through gigs, tasting events and multimedia.
Whether it's a gorgeous skyline, the world's best pizza, the city's fascinating (if slightly violent) history, lovely lakeside beaches, or unbeatable live music, it's hard not to be impressed by everything Chicago has to offer.
Here's another fun fact: Chicago is undergoing a spectacular whisky boom. (I'm using "whisky" to describe both Scotch whisky and American/Irish whiskey). It's home to award-winning distilleries, and many, many whisky bars. When you see articles online, presenting the "top 10" or "top 5" whisky bars in Chicago, I can guarantee they're leaving a lot out.
In my last visit there, I did my best to cover as many bars as possible, but there was no way that I was able to visit every single one. Fortunately, I know someone who's come close.
Martin 'Marty' Duffy, a Chicago native, is one of the movers and shakers of Chicago's whisky scene. In addition to his responsibility as a brand ambassador for Glencairn glasses, he's a co-producer of the Chicago Independent Spirits Expo. Everyone I talked to mentioned his name as someone who knows what's going on with whisky in the Windy City, and he's enjoyed a front-row seat observing Chicago's whisky evolution.
"Having been in the whisky biz for over 21 years -with some 12 years additional of bartending overlapping that - it is amazing to see how much whisky has become such a huge part of Chicago’s drink culture," he says with pride.
He kindly provided me with a list of his recommended whisky haunts that you can discover and enjoy for yourself.
These recommendations serve as an insider's primer to Chicago's whisky bars, celebrating the establishments in the city that take the "water of life" extremely seriously.
Here they are, in alphabetical order:
- Bangers & Lace (American): Loads of craft beer on offer, as well as sausages.
- Bar on Buena (American/Scotch): More than 300 whiskies, 23 beers on draft, and 90-plus in bottles and cans. Nice.
- Ballydoyle (Irish): Irish pub with a healthy selection of Irish whiskey.
- Berkshire Room (Scotch/American): Known for excellent cocktails, but also a great selection of whiskies.
- Chief O'Neill's (Scotch/Irish): Not only are there Irish whiskey cocktails here, but also Irish music concerts.
- Clark Street Ale House (Scotch/American): More than 300 whiskies, a large selection of beer, and a huge beer garden.
- Delilah's (World): A Chicago institution, and one of the first bars in the city to take whisky seriously. 800-plus whiskies from 15 countries available.
- Duke of Perth (Scotch): Founded in 1989, one of the city's first to serve single malt Scotch.
- Fountainhead (American/Scotch): A selection of 400-plus whiskies, featuring its own whisky casks sourced itself as well as Scotch Malt Whisky Society whiskies.
- Franklin Room (American/Scotch): Classy basement establishment with a huge selection.
- The Gage (Scotch/American/Irish): The Gage also has a great wine selection and a restaurant that has earned a lot of praise.
- Gingerman Tavern (Scotch/American): An alternative to the Wrigley Field sports bar that puts on live music.
- The Grafton (Scotch/Irish): Hosts regular live music nights.
- Jerry's in Lincoln Square (American): Enjoy a whisky to accompany one of the 100+ sandwiches.
- Kuma's (American): Top-notch burgers accompanied by a metal soundtrack.
- The Lady Gregory (Scotch/Irish): Irish pub using local ingredients for its food, also features a 300+ selection of whiskies,
- Longman & Eagle (American): These guys specialize in single cask whiskies.
- The Map Room (American): Also serious about beer, and even hosts a beer school.
- Maria's Community Bar (American): Craft spirits, a house brewery and the only Polish/Korean fusion restaurant that I've ever run across.
- Monkey's Paw (Scotch/American): Farm-to-table restaurant that also does flights.
- Owen & Engine (American): Enjoy your spirit of choice next to a cosy fireplace.
- Pitchfork Food & Saloon (American): Sports bar with a good selection of bourbons.
- The Queen Mary Tavern (Scotch): Classy little tavern with nice cocktails and a surprising number of fortified wines.
- The Red Lion Pub (Scotch/American): Superb selection of whiskies in a supposedly haunted establishment.
- Sedgwick Stop (American): A cosy restaurant.
- South Branch Tavern (Scotch/American): Boasts a lovely riverside patio.
- Twisted Spoke (World): Phenomenal selection with some really unusual choices.
- Untitled Supper Club (American): Over 500 whiskies in a Prohibition-themed establishment featuring live music and cabaret entertainment.
- WeeGee's Lounge (Scotch/American): Retro-themed lounge with a black-and-white photo booth.
If I've left out a few, please do get in touch with me and I'll happily update the list.
By Felipe Schrieberg
Felipe is a London-based whisky writer, musician, tastings host, drinks competitions judge, and author. He writes for internationally renowned publications such as Forbes, Whisky Magazine and The Whiskey Wash. He has been awarded the Icons of Whisky Communicator of the Year award at Whisky Magazine's 2022 World Whiskies Awards.
He is the co-founder of The Rhythm and Booze Project, a duo fusing live music and whisky through gigs, tasting events, and multimedia. His past projects encompass performances at the Edinburgh Fringe of the band's own show Two Guys, Three Drams which combined live blues with whisky tasting, and building the world's first bass drum made from an entire Scotch whisky cask with a barrel of Lagavulin.
He is also a judge for the World Whiskies Awards and The Independent Bottlers Challenge. Through his online tastings hosted at The Virtual Whisky Masterclass, he has welcomed over 3,000 guests across 250+ tasting events.
His first book, London Cocktails, is now available worldwide. Follow him on Twitter/Instagram @schriebergfr, or at www.felipeschrieberg.com
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