“Whiskey river don’t run dry,” sang Willie Nelson in his radio hit of a quarter century ago. Well, never fear, whiskey-lovers, you’ll find a “Whiskey River” running fast and strong, with at least a dozen Chicago whiskey bars claiming the spirit as their specialty.
Alas, most trips to the Windy City just don’t afford the time (or the tolerance) to visit all the Chicago whiskey bars that boast an expansive whiskey selection. And so, with nothing in mind but you, dear reader, we at Concierge Preferred have tirelessly tested each and every whiskey bar in the city to create a shortlist - the best of the best.
Without further adieu, here they are: broken down by Irish whiskey, scotch and good old Kentucky bourbon.
Top Chicago Irish Whiskey Bar
With a remarkably well thought out list of 15 Irish whiskeys, ranging in price from $8 to $30, the Gage’s liquor selection is nothing to sneeze at. We must admit, however, that although the whiskeys are undoubtedly delicious, The Gage made our list more for the food of chef Dirk Flanigan. The bar has received numerous accolades in the city's press (click here for a review) and for its stellar location - right across the street from Millennium Park. But what the whiskey menu may lack in size, it makes up for in thoughtfulness. Gems include the 12-year Red Breast, Old Bushmills 21, and Midleton Very Rare, 2001 vintage. The Gage is known throughout the city for its exquisitely prepared scotch egg - a hard-boiled egg, rolled in sausage, and topped with just a touch of spicy mustard. Other favorites include crispy chicken livers, a USDA Prime burger with camembert and onion marmalade, and a roast saddle of elk.
Top Chicago Scotch Bar
A truly authentic Scottish pub, the Duke of Perth has 75 single malt scotch whiskeys for your pleasure, not to mention a taste of old-fashioned Chicago nightlife. List highlights include Macallan 25, Highland Park 25-year and 18-year, and Dalmore 28. Can’t choose just one whiskey? The Duke of Perth also offers a selection of scotch flights. The Full Monty ($31) is a staff favorite. True to the atmosphere of a rustic Scottish pub, the Duke of Perth does not have any televisions or loud, distracting music – just plenty of good company and good conversation with an eclectic crowd of whiskey-lovers, ranging in age from 21 to 81. The menu features authentic Scottish delights like Hebridean leek pie and American takes on Scottish standards such as the “Scotch egg burger.” The Duke’s fish and chips, served with a side of peas, is arguably the best in the city. Come by Mondays for 2-for-1 entrees, or Wednesdays and Fridays for all-you-can-eat portions of this delicious dish for just $9.50.
Whatever your poison--bourbon, scotch or Irish whiskey--if you like complex, smoky brown liquor, Chicago has a bar that's perfect for you: take your pick.
Top Chicago Bourbon Bar
“It’s not the size that matters.” True though this maxim may be, it’s hard not to be blown away by the more than 400 – that’s four zero zero - different whiskeys that Delilah’s offers.
Delilah’s bottles range in style, but bourbon undoubtedly reigns supreme. Owner Mike Miller conducts monthly tastings, has written scholarly articles on whiskey, and tours the country giving lectures on the topic. Sound like a staid, jacketed, cigar-and-snifter type of guy? Hardly.
Miller is as wild, unpretentious and unhinged as the black-walled, punk-fueled bar he runs. Besides bourbon, music really is the soul of Delilah’s. Housed in the same space as the long-closed Crash Palace, the place where Kurt Cobain reportedly first met Courtney Love, Delilah’s has a long history as one of the best music bars in the country.
If your idea of great Chicago nightlife includes live music, then look no further than Delilah's. Punk, post-punk, electro, rockabilly, insurgent country – it all can be heard here. Delilah’s also holds regular film screenings, of everything from "Twin Peaks" to "I Was a Teenage Zombie." The entertainment at Delilah’s is as eclectic as the poison, so check out the bar’s calendar of events to pick yours.