This month, for our "Best of Chicago" series, we're picking our top bars in River North.
For almost everyone, unless you just got off the plane at O'hare for the first time, River North is Chicago's mecca for night life. There are a plethora of neighborhoods that cater to the young, bold and energetic, but if you want the crowd, the vanity, the newest bars and restaurants, the craziness, the sheer palette of senses tingling you, River North is the place to be.
That said, River North is not for everyone. Sure it still has a couple dive bars left and possibly one or two affordable restaurants, but for the most part, River North is pricey and modern (notice I didn't use the word trendy). It can start with beautiful and elegantly dressed people but by the end of the night it could get rowdy. So, take your pick of the bars in River North, or make life easy for yourself and check out our top picks!
1. For the Go-To-Spot: Hubbard Inn
River North has SO many options that sometimes it's hard to know which bar to go to. But if I had to tell someone one spot they should definitely check out that epitomizes River North fun, Hubbard Inn would be the place.
For happy hour or just having food and drinks with friends, stay on the first floor. But for a weekend of non-stop fun, meeting people from all over the city, suburbs and the world, Hubbard Inn's second floor space is the place to be. It has a very elegant, speakeasy and rich look to it but with a modern funk feel.
The music makes you want to bob your head and move your legs as the sound system pumps out great music. The atmosphere is electric as drinks seem to keep on pouring, never mind that you keep on ordering. But that's what makes a bar a great bar; you are having fun, being in the moment, happy that you are a piece of this thing called "vibe" that is all around you. That's Hubbard Inn.
Best time to go for me is 10 PM. That's when it's normally packed. And Hubbard Inn is one of those bars that is best when it's packed - because everyone is having an awesome time.
2. For Dancing: Disco at Celeste
Girls love to dance. And guys love girls that dance. So definitely check out Disco.
Disco is on the third floor of Celeste. Without Disco, Celeste is already a great spot for a glass of wine or cocktails. And during the summer, their rooftop garden is an eden of beauty. But Disco is where things GET happening. The name implies it all. It has a retro feel without being old. It plays music from the past but fused with the most modern sounds. The bold and the beautiful are always there. Because of that there is typically a line, but it's one of the few places I am willing to wait - a little. But once you are inside - and I know this sounds a bit cliche or even douche - but you feel you are IN; you're part of the IN crowd.
Because it does get very busy and has limited bar area, try to get there early. Or, get there really late. My suggestion besides the early and late times, get a drink or two downstairs first or at the garden in the summer. Then when you are ready to take your shoes off and dance like a queen or a king, go to Disco for a night of libations and vibrations.
3. For Cocktails: Franklin Room
Franklin Room is a classy below-street cocktail bar, with distinctive drinks, chic decor, and elegant people. You'll feel like you're partying with the Great Gatsby as cocktails are prepared by an expert mixologist, while sitting next to interesting folks with refined tastes.
Franklin Room has a solid selection of beer, but you go there for their fine spirits; whiskey-focused, with bottles from Scotland, Japan, India, Ireland and the U.S., with a solid selection of gin, rum and agave spirits. Their menus are simple and if you are not sure what to order, go ahead and ask the speakeasy style bar men and women, and they'll suggest one for you. I actually would suggest that you ask them, as not once have their picks gone wrong for me.
Franklin Room is also a great spot for happy hour from 5:00 to 6:30 PM as they have there scrumptious oyster specials. Professionals from downtown converge here for their delectable fresh $1 oysters, delicious cocktails prepared by an expert mixologist, while conversing with sophisticated folks, and partying like it's 1929.
4. For the Rooftop Experience: Joy District
You know my favorite River North Go-To-Spot is Hubbard Inn. That means the owners there must be doing something right. And they must be because the owners of Hubbard Inn bought EPIC (the place next door) and turned it into another gem of a place where club-feel mixes with New Amsterdam decor. The transformation: Joy District. Joy District, like many of the establishments in River North, has multiple levels. Level one is where you have your happy hour and food. It has a fast paced feel even if it's not crowded. Second level is where they hold large events and parties and for late night, free-flowing crowds. And then there's the third floor. It's what makes Joy District the place to be, especially in the summer: the rooftop. The rooftop is unique, has character, is artsy, with a not quite Chicago feel, yet not a copy cat of any any other city I know of. It's original. It's a more relaxed environment compared to downstairs but still a scene and to be seen without the ugly pretentiousness of some other rooftop or clubs in River North.
Night or day, doesn't matter. Come at all times for different experiences. At day, you will feel happy and relaxed. At night you'll feel happy and energized. After experiencing the rooftop of Joy District you want all bars to have a rooftop like theirs.
5. For Entertainment and Visuals: Untitled Supper Club
Looking to get mesmerized by all your senses? Untitled Supper Club will do that to you. Upon first entrance this super venue in River North will blow your mind away. From their multiple rooms, like their Whiskey Library Room (Looks exactly like a whiskey library room), Champagne Dining Room and their backstage where burlesque and variety shows wow packed Thursday night audiences, Untitled has it all for a night out.
At first glance Untitled can seem intimidating because it's so big but give it a try even if you are going alone. The cavernous prohibition-era modern version of a speakeasy has a surprsingly intimate feel. Immerse yourself among the fun crowd whether they are listening to incredible musicians, watching jaw-dropping shows, or just dancing the night away. The fun around you is so contagious that the next thing you know you'll be in the thick of things yourself!
Untitled is a great place to go ANY day because it's such a visually stimulating place. You'll be very happy you did.
6. For Sports: Trophy Room
Trophy Room is a much needed bar in River North. It's an interesting place. At first glance it looks like a sports bar. But take a harder look and be amazed at the experience Trophy Room offers for avid sports fans. It has dozens of flat screen TVs with areas and spaces like the Main, Pitch, Skybox, Dugout AKA sports fanatic heaven. Add comfy couches, two bars, and excellent pizzas made of sour dough cultivated in wild yeast in 600 degree hearth...you know you can watch a game happy.
But what makes Trophy Room interesting is not that it's a solid place to watch sports but also a place where you can actually catch live music on Fridays (non sports events) or go to their fun Wednesday trivia night with weekly and grand prizes. Plus they actually get hopping on weekend nights. And during holidays, say St Patrick's Day, you better be part of the crawl they take in or otherwise you'll be looking in from the outside.
But what makes them REAL special is their service. Their bartenders and servers are great and if you need anything, just ask for Adam. He'll make sure you are taken care of. Tell him, Peter sent you. :)
7. For Happy Hour: Howl at the Moon
Like live music? Dueling pianos? Cheap drinks? Meet people from Chicago and out of town? If the answer is yes to all those, then stop by Howl at the Moon for a happy hour. Chances are you'll be part of a party that got $1 drinks and a free buffet and if not, go ahead and win a party for your birthday or anniversary party!
Because of the music and the free-flowing booze and food, it is a lively place right after work. Howl always has large groups of friends eating, drinking and partying. Bachelorette parties are also quite common - don't be surprised to see a dozen of them in one night!
I recommend going to Howl at the Moon for large parties or if you like to mix in and mingle. Don't worry, step closer, tell the girl or guy what you think of the dueling pianos and make a new friend for the evening - even if they happen to be out of town.
So, hopefully you can check out all of the bars above. Each one is fantastic for different reasons. Let me know what bars are your favorite. Until next time, keep on exploring!