50 unknown bars: Unsung but lovable dives, lounges and taverns.
Chicago dives, lounges and taverns.
Skip the ground level of this Polish dive and head straight to the basement, where Karolinka transforms from forgettable bar into a delightful grandmother’s living room. Decorated with cushy armchairs and tchotchke-lined walls, it’s the cozier way to sip $2 beers, munch on pierogi and catch up on Polish news. Owner Krzysztof Ciszek drops in to shoot the shit with Karolinka’s blue-collar regulars. Extra shot If you’re lucky, frenzied polka-dancing patrons will liven up the joint to the tune of a live band (call ahead). 6102 S Central Ave (773-735-0818).—Christina Couch
SECOND STORY BAR
Since 1984, this bar just steps off the Mag Mile has been a low-key, well-hidden hangout for middle-aged gays. Regulars drink cocktails and chat over dance music thumping at a comfortable level in the cozy space (capacity: 36). Manager AJ Graveline agrees that details such as the black walls, mirrors and old neon sign in the window make it “a little bit of a time machine.” Extra shot The prices are a throwback, too: Beers are only $3.50 and cocktails start at $4.50. 157 E Ohio St (312-923-9536).—Karl Klockars
Just above the far end of the bar peeks the white-haired head of Rose. As the tiny, friendly Macedonia native slowly rises to pour drafts of Old Style, she explains how crime-ridden her now-posh Lincoln Park environs were when she opened her bar 35 years ago. On a Friday night, the bar hosts an old regular who’s frequented Rose’s Lounge since it opened, a smattering of hipsters and a few pool-playing men who are clearly quite protective of their tavern and its matriarch. Extra shot A Miller Light draft costs just $2. 2656 N Lincoln Ave (773-327-4000).—Novid Parsi
HELEN AND STAN’S CORNER
As “Mississippi Queen” by Mountain blares on the jukebox at this well-worn Garfield Ridge tavern opened in 1985 by Polish immigrants, municipal employees gather around the pool table and belly up to the wood parquet bar for bottles of Okocim and Zywiec beer ($3.50) and shots of blackberry brandy ($2). Polish highlander hats and axes hang above the bar, and the swinging doors leading to a small dining room are painted with folk-art gnomes. Extra shot The bar serves up tasty Polish chow, including pierogi, potato pancakes and a recent special of meatballs in mushroom gravy. 5960 S Archer Ave (773-585-6131).—John Greenfield
We’d be inclined to describe this tchotchke-ridden, Christmas light–strewn watering hole as the archetypal cozy dive that makes you feel as if you’re drinking in an elderly person’s house. That is, if this Bridgeport bar weren’t technically an octogenarian’s actual home. Although Bernice Badauskas no longer tends bar (her sons Michael and Steve have taken over most of those duties), the eponymous matriarch resides in an attached unit in back and won’t hesitate to come in after last call to let you know it’s time to skedaddle. Extra shot Steve hosts a wacky version of bingo, dubbed “Stingo,” Wednesdays at 9:30pm. 3238 S Halsted St (312-907-1580).—Jake Malooley