5 Secret Bars in Chicago

By Sarah Freeman  |  September 10, 2013

Want to know a secret? Some of Chicago’s best bars are hidden away, accessed Ninja Turtle-style through an intricate booze-filled pipe system. Ok, so that second part may not be true, but the first part about secret bars is very much a reality. Some of the city's most potent cocktails can be enjoyed in underground cocktail lounges, back-room jazz clubs and dens of mixology... if you know where to look. Luckily, we're giving you a tour of five of the most elusive watering holes in Chicago.

  • The Library

    Red-velvet booths and dark-wood tables decorate the intimate space hiding below Gilt Bar. As the name suggests, it has a lot of books of the leather-bound, gold-lettered, antique variety. Brendan Sodikoff and his team scoured the globe to create the impressive collection. Unlike its former alias, Curio, the new bar serves more than craft cocktails - you can get the same classic fare that's served upstairs. Cozy would be an understatement to describe the candlelit space, but we know by now that the guy behind Au Cheval and Bavette’s has a way with mood lighting.

  • Watershed

    The cocktail lounge below Pops for Champagne is one of the few that can don the word speakeasy without it being a gimmick. The stone-walled basement is decorated with highly untrendy carpeted floors, lime-green leather ottomans and upholstered chairs circa a 1986 Holiday Inn. Just as untrendy are the cocktail prices, all of which are only $10 and include concoctions such as Paris on the Prairie (Yahara Bay Cherry Brandy, Yahara Bay cocoa liqueur, lemon and egg white) and Small Change (Ransom Old Tom gin, pink peppercorn syrup and lemon). Having a drink here, served in vintage glassware, is like having a drink in grandma’s basement - if grandma was a cocktail expert.

  • Jimmy

    Located past the sandwich counter of David Burke's Bacon Bar (yes, an entire fast-casual hole-in-the-wall devoted to bacon) is an unmarked door guarded by a tuxedo-wearing gentleman. It is an interesting sight that all makes sense after passing though the door and metal curtains into the speakeasy-style cocktail lounge. The wood-paneled bar serves cocktail inspired by 1970’s cinema. Sip on the Bondsman (apple brandy, vodka, lime, cranberry juice, agave and seltzer) or a Dirty Little Secret (vodka, dry vermouth, olive brine, celery bitters and lemon, and infused with a drop of A1 sauce) while dining on goat cheese fondue or pinot noir Jello.

  • The Back Room

    As entertaining as the cocktails at The Drawing Room may be, with their expert showmanship and eye for ingredients, the real show happens behind the bar down a dark alley. This jazz club hosts live music seven nights a week while serving classic cocktails and select small bites. Dine on hush puppies with giardiniere aïoli or Kentucky beer-cheese spread on crusty bread while listening to Motown, R&B, funk and blues performances in the amber-lit, gold-accented lounge.

  • The Office

    Two years ago, Grant Achatz opened his über-exclusive, ridiculously expensive speakeasy below The Aviary. We would normally call $20 for a cocktail highway robbery, but when mixologist Charles Joly painstakingly crafts each drink with flavor extracts from a rotary evaporator and innovative cocktail technology such as ice cubes that surround the alcohol, the Jackson is justified. If getting the dough isn’t a problem, getting into the bar might be. Guests who dine at The Aviary or Next may be invited to enjoy an after-dinner cocktail in the basement bar, but there is also a secret number to text for reservations if you know who to ask.