5 restaurants where you want to eat at the bar

Whether you forgot to reserve that coveted table in time or simply feel like digging into bar snacks with a friend, a meal at a great restaurant bar can be just as memorable as one in the dining room—albeit without all the fuss. Here are some of Chicago’s best restaurants for bellying up to the bar.

Perch above the bustle at Blackbird
If, like many, you have trouble snagging a last-minute reservation at Blackbird, try your luck with a solo adventure at the bar. Perched at the minimalist, wood-accented bar, you can watch the bustle below as you sip a seasonal cocktail and dig into perfectly seared scallops or smoke-brined chicken. The entire dinner menu is available at the bar, and the friendly, hands-off service allows you to linger—say, over a book with one of pastry chef Dana Cree’s memorable desserts. Perhaps the best time to eat at the bar is during the bustling lunch hour, when Blackbird’s now-famous prix-fixe power lunch will set you back just $25, leaving you feeling like the boss of your wallet.

Duck into ‘60s Bridgeport at The Duck Inn
Channel your inner Don or Betty Draper and settle onto a mustard-yellow stool at the bar of the ‘60s inspired Duck Inn. Chef-owner Kevin Hickey went back to his Bridgeport roots to create this unique gastrotavern, whose lounge is complete with record players, cigarette ads, and mid-century furniture. Munch on one of the playful snacks from the dedicated bar menu, like the oversized duck fat dog or fried cheese curds with Bloody Mary ketchup, while you sip a duck fat–washed Duck Out, made with cognac, sherry, and Chinese five spice syrup. For a truly authentic ‘60s experience, put away your smartphone, too.

Switch it up at Webster’s Wine Bar
Sometimes you need a break from Chicago’s cocktail and craft beer mania. Pull up a seat at the high candlelit bar at Webster’s Wine Bar, recently relocated to the former Telegraph space in red hot Logan Square. Nibble on a fried chickpea snack while you peruse the long list of affordable wines, a global selection lovingly curated by sommelier Jeremy Quinn. The tapas-centric menu is rich with seafood, meat, and cheese offerings. Try the salt cod croquettes with unctuous tomato aïoli and grilled lemon, or the luxurious steak tartare with grainy mustard and black truffle. Night owls can also get a little salty sustenance from the late-night menu, available after 11 PM on weeknights, and post-midnight on weekends.

A little Victorian glam at Trenchermen
Sitting down for a meal at Trenchermen may feel like it requires a special occasion, but you can enjoy the visual (and gastronomical) delights of one of the city’s most unique bars—combining clean modernity with hints of Victorian-era glam. Enter the former bathhouse building, descend the short staircase, and park yourself at the bar for a craft beer or one of the seasonal house cocktails like the warming hot toddy. The bar menu is dotted with an array of poppable salty bites—think corn nuts, shrimp toast with fried capers, and pickled tots—plus a few heftier offerings. For $14, the double burger with melted aged Cheddar, bread and butter pickles, and house chips feels like a steal, because it is. If that’s just not enough, you can also order from the full dinner menu.

Dressed down seafood at the Shaw’s Oyster Bar
Nothing beats a platter of fresh shellfish and a dry martini in a dimly lit restaurant accented with crisp white tablecloths. That’s why you come to Shaw’s. But if you want great fish and shellfish in a more casual atmosphere, head to the tiled floor of Shaw’s bustling oyster bar. The menu covers everything from sushi and fish and chips to charbroiled burgers and lobster. Though there are about 120 bar seats, they fill up fast on weekday evenings from 4 to 6 PM, when Shaw’s version of happy hour, “Oyster Hour,” features half-priced East and West Coast oysters shucked to order for $1.25 a pop.

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