There’s a memorable scene from the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” when George Bailey and Clarence the Angel go into Martini’s Bar. After some nonsense from Clarence, Nick the bartender explains things: “We serve hard drinks in here for men who want to get drunk fast.” I love that line, and I can’t think of a better definition of a perfect “hole-in-the-wall” bar. You may call them dive bars, hangouts or joints. Either way, the Chicago area has some classic establishments conducive to serious drinking, and considering the times we live in, thank God we have so many to choose from.

Billy Goat

430 North Michigan Ave. (lower level)
Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 222-1525

Sure there are too many tourists here sometimes, but respect must be paid to the granddaddy of all hole-in-the wall bars. If you don’t know where to look, you’ll never find this secluded watering hole, nestled on the subterranean level of the city, but it’s definitely worth the effort. There’s plenty of elbow room at the extra-long bar, where you can order the house dark draft or a shot of Jack Daniels straight depending on how your day went. This is also the perfect place to hide if you decide to skip out on work early some day and have a “few” before your evening train departs.

credit: Matt Cardy/Getty Images


2159 W. Chicago Ave.
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 782-1400

Some say this Ukrainian Village mainstay isn’t the same since they stopped calling it “Tuman’s Alcohol Abuse Center,” but i still like it. Especially, in the afternoon/early evening when there’s plenty of room at the bar or at one of their lopsided tables. If you’re hungry, they have a surprisingly good menu. I love the beer cheese soup — correction, I hope to be buried in vat of it when I die. Warning: On weekend nights, it gets a little too crowded with hipsters for my liking.

Bottom’s Up

1696 Thornton-Lansing Road
Lansing, IL 60438
(708) 418-3877

I’m not going to lie: This bar might be a long haul for a lot of people, but I’m lucky enough to be able to walk home from this classic roadhouse. They offer $1 draft beers EVERY DAY. It’s cheaper to get a beer at this place than a Coke. Twenty bucks here can make a lot of new friends. This joint is open until 4 a.m. and the kitchen is open as late at 2 a.m. on some nights.


Black Beetle

2532 West Chicago Ave.
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 384-0701

I used to date a girl who lived half a block from this place. It was great for a pre- or post-date shot and beer. The bartender here gives everybody a nickname. They used to call me “sweater vest.” The jukebox has a great selection of Johnny Cash and Guns ‘n Roses B-sides — never a bad thing. Sit in the window, sip a PBR and watch the world go by.

credit: Graeme Robertson/Getty Images

Schaller’s Pump

3714 S. Halsted St.
Chicago, IL 60609
(773) 376-6332

These days, this is mostly known as White Sox bar, but it is so much more. It’s a living, breathing monument to Chicago’s drinking history. It certainly doesn’t look like much from the outside and the inside decor is best described as sparse, but its walls ooze character. This place has been welcoming customers since 1881 and has never slowed down, not even for prohibition. One afternoon, I had a couple of beers and the meatloaf special and got change back from a $10. That’s value anyone can appreciate.

-Dan Blom