50 unknown bars: Unsung but lovable dives, lounges and taverns.
Chicago dives, lounges and taverns.
LITTLE BRANCH CAFE
It’s hidden in a quiet South Loop development, yet the fact that it exists is not the most surprising thing about Little Branch Cafe. Rather, it’s the fact that, come nightfall, this spot (it’s a coffee-and-sandwich shop by day) transforms into a cocktail bar. The wine, beer and cocktail lists are tightly edited (think classics such as the Corpse Reviver), and because it’s so quiet in here, there’s nothing to distract you from how well the drinks are executed. Extra shot The dinner menu, with items like chicken and waffles, goes beyond the lunchtime offerings of panini. 1251 S Prairie Ave (312-360-0101).—David Tamarkin
Kerry Tamura reinvented this elegant space as a sake lounge last year (his late father ran it for more than two decades as Japanese businessmen’s haunt Cafe Shino). On a recent Saturday night, Tamura and his gracious staff are happy to explain the phenomenal sake list, offbeat cocktails and tasty otsumami (small plates) to a mostly American crowd—though crowd may be overstating it: The bar is inexplicably empty until late in the evening. Extra shot You can rent a private karaoke room for two hours for $50 per person, which includes one to four bottles of booze, depending on the size of your group. 211 E Ontario St (312-266-2280).—Lauren Weinberg
FLO'S ALGIERS LOUNGE
A flashing arrow sign directs you to this divey little piece of Vegas in Chicago—with a Polish twist. Opened in 1981 in a former Portage Park dry cleaner, the tavern sports red walls and support pillars disguised as palm trees, drawing a multigenerational crowd ranging from construction workers to irony-seeking Bohemians. Flo, a youthful 86-year-old with a carrot top, serves up Old Style and MGD ($2.50), plus pierogi, stuffed peppers and cabbage rolls. Extra shot Flo’s Elvis impersonator son-in-law and her daughter belt out Cash, Diamond and the King on weekends. 5436 W Montrose Ave (773-736-1111).—John Greenfield
True to its name, this tavern is a relaxing oasis in rough-and-tumble Woodlawn. In business since 1956, the bar features mirrors ringed with plastic roses, multiple portraits of Obama and a large lamppost in the middle of the room. Middle-aged and older men in Sox hats and Kangol caps drink bottles of MGD ($2.50), while sharply dressed ladies sip goblets of vodka and cranberry. The jukebox is well stocked with R&B dusties, and when “Honky Tonk” by James Brown comes on, women at one end of the bar start clapping along. Extra shot Ex-Chicago Defender gossip columnist Cliff Pierce is a regular. 461 E 63rd St (773-833-2777).—John Greenfield
Skip the popular “Irish Mile” pubs along Western Avenue and hit this Beverly rarity, featuring a sleek, backlit bar and hand-drawn martini menu. Stake claim to the ringed couches, or take a seat at the bar to chat up friendly bartenders who can help you pick your poison (try the Key Lime Pie and Swedish Fish martinis). Lest you forget which neighborhood you’re in, there’s plenty of sports on TV and prayer requests are accepted via the bar’s website. Extra shot Free food on game days supplements a $20 all-you-can-drink beer deal. 11064 S Western Ave (773-429-1598).—Martina Sheehan