Whatever sort of tavern you seek, chances are you'll find it in Chicago. From taprooms to cocktail lounges, corner dives to speakeasies, there’s something for every imbiber. A lesser-known category of local bar is the book-friendly establishment. Whether featuring an actual literary theme or just a killer book collection, here are 10 Chicago bars ideal for those mellower moments when you want to curl up with a good read.
Read all about it at Red Lion Pub
Perhaps the most bookish of all Chicago bars is Lincoln Park’s Red Lion Pub (redlionchicago.com), home to an impressive collection of British literature filling shelf after shelf (be sure to take in the Great War Room). Also serving traditional English fare – ale-battered fish and chips, bangers and mash, minted peas – it’s a pub beloved by both anglophiles and bibliophiles.
Wile away an afternoon at Wilde
Named after renowned playwright and novelist Oscar Wilde – he of the jaunty hats and fur-trimmed coats – Wilde Bar and Restaurant (wildechicago.com) is not lacking for literary style. Think tufted booths, warm lighting and cozy nooks. To really soak up the ambiance, order an Irish ale and take a seat in the library, surrounded by a fireplace, well-stocked bookshelves and a framed picture of Dorian Gray himself. It’s a novel way to enjoy some downtime in the bustling heart of Lakeview.
Fulfill your literary wishes at Monkey’s Paw
Has a gastropub ever reminded you of high-school English class? That may be the case with The Monkey’s Paw (themonkeyspawchicago.com), named after the famous short story by W. W. Jacobs, which is required reading for many students. The unassuming bar and restaurant, tucked away on a quiet corner in Lincoln Park, includes a reading area with comfy chairs situated around a fireplace, not unlike the English family home described in the gothic tale.
Chart your next travels at The Map Room
As the name suggests, Bucktown bar The Map Room is all about travel. Myriad flags, maps, globes and issues of National Geographic serve to further the theme. The establishment offers more than 200 beers from around the world, and doubles as a morning coffee bar, serving espresso and pastries. It's just the place to hunker down with a collection of travel essays, or grab an atlas from the bar’s bookshelves and plot your next adventure.
Find lit and libations at Lady Gregory’s
The sister bar to Wilde, Andersonville’s Lady Gregory’s (ladygregorys.com) is named after the Irish dramatist whom George Bernard Shaw called “The greatest Irishwoman that ever lived.” That’s his quote, anyway, on the gastropub’s 50-page “Drinks Bible,” listing 300 whiskeys and approximately 100 beers. Order drinks and comfort food – regulars swear by the lobster mac and cheese with white cheddar truffle cream – and steal away to the cozy library room in back.
Stop in the storied Old Town Ale House
Film critic Roger Ebert called Old Town Ale House “The best bar in the world that I know about.” For years it served as a legendary hangout for Second City comedians and blue-collar regulars. The Old Town watering hole now attracts a more gentrified crowd, but the quirky factor persists: Unique paintings of local celebrities and nude politicians fill the walls, while a bookshelf near the door provides a random assortment of reading material.
Peruse Midwestern design at Freehand Chicago
Spend an afternoon in the cozy, dimly lit common room at River North’s hostel/hotel Freehand Chicago, while enjoying a craft cocktail from The Broken Shaker (thefreehand.com/chicago/venues/the-broken-shaker/). The gathering room is decorated with beautiful midcentury-modern furnishings and decor, and two nooks offer a well-curated selection of books on Midwestern art, design and architecture.
Host your book club at The Drawing Room
Spacious and stately, The Drawing Room at Chicago Athletic Association overlooks Millennium Park but provides plenty of its own scenery. Tall ceilings, stunning millwork and high-back leather chairs evoke a Venetian gothic castle (the architect’s original inspiration in 1893). Also Hogwarts. Situate yourself by one of the large fireplaces and experience the magic.
Check out The Library at Gilt Bar
The Library is a low-lit basement bar in River North. Technically speaking, it’s the downstairs drinking room of Brendan Sodikoff’s Gilt Bar (giltbarchicago.com), but red-velvet booths and shelves of vintage books lend it a more intimate feel. Gilt’s entire menu – including small-plates like truffle pasta, buttery roasted salmon, and steak tartare on toast – is available here, alongside a variety of classic cocktails such as mules, old fashioneds and daisies.
Dive into a book at Galway Bay
Too often the word “dive” is used as a blanket description for any bar with cheap beer and an unpretentious vibe. True dives are arguably more that that. There’s often a slightly musty smell, haphazard decor, and a bathroom that doubles as a storage closet. Lakeview’s Galway Bay (facebook.com/galway-bay) offers another divey detail: catchall shelves full of old Nintendo games, vintage beer cans, a few Christmas decorations left up all year and books. Browse the latter while sipping draft beer and munching on free popcorn.