Chicago became famous for its speakeasies during the Capone-driven 1920s. A century later, a more refined, less secretive version of the classic watering hole is popping up at fine-dining restaurants around town—often in the basement. Aside from high-end cocktails created by some of the country’s best mixologists, these places make the food, often courtesy of Michelin-starred chefs, a major draw.
Chicago Mexican food kingpin Rick Bayless blazed the trail for this particular trend in 2018 by opening Bar Sótano, in the basement of his side-by- side restaurants Topolobampo and Frontera Grill. It remains one of the best today, thanks to an extensive mezcal collection, market-inspired cocktails, a raw bar, and creative Oaxacan cuisine such as fried-chicken encacahuatado tacos with peanut salsa.
José Andrés’s new lounge, beneath his River North restaurant Jaleo, is all jamón, all the time. Flying pigs on the mirrors and curly pigtails on the walls set the mood for the menu, which features ibérico pork in both the dishes and many cocktails. (Take the Negroni Cristal, a combination of Gin Mare, blanc vermouth, and Luxardo Bitter Bianco that has been fat-washed with ibérico ham fat.) “It’s all about the pig,” says Ramon Martinez, the culinary director of Andrés’s ThinkFoodGroup.
Consistently ranked as one of the Windy City’s best restaurants, this two-Michelin-starred spot in the West Loop is now also home to one of its best late-night bars. Guests can reserve one of six bar seats or two small lounge areas for nightcap service, beginning at 10 p.m. Julia Momosé, creative director at sister restaurant Kumiko, developed the cocktail list, which features elevated classics such as an old-fashioned with Bràulio amaro and date vinegar. Be sure to try chef Noah Sandoval’s ham sandwich: Edwards Virginia Smokehouse country ham, Publican Quality Meats mortadella, raclette, arugula, lemon, and walnut mustard on a baguette from pHlour Bakery.
Soif Wine Lounge
Aldo Zaninotto dreamed of opening a Parisian-style wine bar, so he established Soif in the basement of his Logan Square Italian restaurant, Testaccio. A barely marked door leads to a shadowy room where local DJs spin and the menu focuses on about 50 hard-to-find wines from small producers, along with French spirits, classic cocktails, small bites, and caviar service. Considering that France never submitted to the scourge of Prohibition, it’s a pretty impressive take on a speakeasy.