Don’t tell Boston, Milwaukee, or whichever city the big silver train in those beer commercials comes from, but Chicago is filled with breweries, ranging from huge warehouse taprooms to coffee-shop-sized brew pubs. There’s approximately one for every Chicagoan, and not all are created equal - so we put together a list of the 12 best.
For the sake of defining what exactly constitutes a Chicago taproom, we’re talking about places that (1) brew and serve their own beer on-site, (2) may or may not have food, and (3) are within the city limits, meaning some of our favorite suburban, or Indianian breweries (sorry Three Floyd’s) didn’t make the cut. That left us with these 12 spots.
We’re huge fans of Half Acre’s original taproom, especially for getting work done or eating some surprisingly good burritos. But their Balmoral taproom is bigger, and because of its beer garden and bocce court, much better for day drinking. They don’t do tours as regularly as some other spots, but when they do they’re very detailed, and the staff makes sure you get (at least) three full pours in your free pint glass, which makes it the best $10 you can spend at a brewery in Chicago.
District Brew Yards is a collaboration of four breweries where you can pour your own beer. We’re not sure if we should have all that power, because whenever we go to a self-serve frozen yogurt shop we end up spending $17 on a cup with six flavors and nine toppings. But if you’re more responsible, you’ll have a good time building your own flights here.
There’s usually no middle ground when it comes to jam bands - you’d either follow Dead & Co. across the country or you’d rather listen to construction noise than a 30-minute guitar solo. But On Tour is a good place for people who want to watch live streams of Phish shows and Chicago sports - since they do both here. The space works well for all of these things, with comfortable couches and a garage door that’s open when the weather’s nice.
Like a lot of breweries, Metropolitan’s taproom is a big warehouse-y space, but what makes it unique is that it’s right on the Chicago River. And even though it’s not the fancy part of the river with multi-million dollar condos, it’s still nice sitting out on their patio by the water. Plus, we bet that if any of those rich people brew their own beer, it’s probably not as good as Metropolitan’s German-style lagers.
There might be an alternate universe where Cheers is set in Chicago instead of Boston. Sam Malone is a retired Cubs legend, Cliff works for the CTA, and everyone hangs out at a place like Revolution Brewpub. This place has a big wraparound bar, lots of warm wood paneling, and enough taps to keep Norm happy.
Middle Brow could stop brewing beer tomorrow and still stay open for business. That’s because it’s also a very good restaurant serving pizzas and outstanding housemade bread, and has an enjoyable atmosphere that feels like your creative friend’s wedding reception. But to be clear, we really like the beer here, and don’t want them to stop serving it under any circumstances.
It might be because of all the reclaimed wood and the living plant wall behind the bar, or the fact that it’s about 1/10 the size of most Chicago breweries, but drinking at Alulu feels like sitting in a childhood treehouse. The beers are great (like their Mexican lager with smoked poblano and jalapeno), you can order flights that include palate cleansers, and (unlike your treehouse) you won’t have to hide them from your parents. As a bonus, the food is also good, with dishes like delicious masala fries and some excellent wings.
Great Central’s high ceilings, long wooden tables, and German beers make it feel like a Munich beer hall - but one with shuffleboard, ping pong tables, and big windows that open up on nice days. They don’t offer flights or tasters, but you’ll feel better playing those games with a full stein of German beer, anyway.
Compromises are usually terrible because nobody actually gets what they want - that’s how we end up with Arnold Palmers. Eris’s taproom, an old Masonic temple in Irving Park, is a compromise we like. They brew both cider and beer, and serve food like a bacon-wrapped polish sausage alongside a vegan tofu rice bowl. There are even cider-beer blends, which sound like an especially poorly-thought-out Arnold Palmer but end up being some of the best drinks here.
The Marz taproom feels like an art gallery from the future, has its own arcade, and serves excellent food like wagyu pastrami and Chicago-style fried bologna sandwiches. They also have karaoke, pub trivia, drink-and-draws, comedy shows, Super Smash Bros. tournaments, and more. Basically, this place is an event space as much as a taproom, but one where you can order a wine-cask-fermented wild ale.
Hopewell feels sort of like the taproom for people who hate brewery taprooms. It’s not a big, dark building with exposed wood beams and beer barrels that could be hiding mice in every corner - it’s a well-lit space that looks like the lobby of a fun start-up. If you walk by at night, you’ll see a lot of people hanging out with their dogs and playing board games, and wonder 1) why that coffee shop is open so late, and 2) why it’s full of drunk people.
Stumbling across certain places can be like finding a real-life easter egg, like the tunnels below the Green Mill, or that rock in Hyde Park where the Obamas had their first kiss. Discovering Maplewood’s taproom, hidden at the very end of a residential street on the edge of Logan Square and Avondale, can feel like this. This small spot has the atmosphere of a rowdy corner bar, but instead of Old Style they’re serving schwarzbiers and blueberry milkshake IPAs.