Chicago has long been a city of neighborhood bars. In some parts of town, the telltale Old Style beer signs, hanging above an establishment's entrance, are as abundant as fire hydrants. Sure, there is no shortage these days of fancier, spanking-new joints where interior decorators have smudged paint on the mirrors to make them look aged or where customers can order faddish drinks like the "s'more-tini". But we're still thirsty for the city's plenitude of old-time places, where Slim Jims are sold from behind the counter and the bartenders are busier filling frosty mugs than crushing graham crackers for the rim of your glass. Here are a few of our favorites.
1. The Burwood Tap 724 West Wrightwood Avenue (773/525-2593) Family owned since 1933, this North Side bar has free popcorn and a friendly bar staff. An array of random ephemera hangs from the ceiling: model airplanes, violins, golf clubs, scooters, stuffed fish, and more. You'll find game shows on TV most afternoons, except when the Cubs are playing.
2. Cardozo's Pub 170 West Washington Street (312/236-1573) Cardozo's is a rarity: a neighborhood tavern right in the Loop, Chicago's downtown core. The nearly 90-year-old basement pub offers a full menu of hearty fare that includes everything from burgers to shrimp de jonghe. The place is open only on weekdays and, in true Chicago saloon tradition, serves free appetizers (buffalo wings and sausage and peppers, among others) during happy hour.
3. Charleston 2076 North Hoyne Avenue (773/489-4757) Amid the gentrification that's transformed the Wicker Park neighborhood into one of the city's trendiest districts, this popular bar has retained its quirky, unpretentious feel. It has an honor system pool table (you plunk 50 cents into an old coffee can) and a taxidermied goat in the window (a gift from a bartender's friend).
4. Corrigan's Pub 3047 West 111th Street (773/298-1315) Corrigan's, on the city's South Side, is a sports bar through and through, but observe closely, and you'll see that it's also a living tribute to the neighborhood's once robust Irish immigrant culture. Framed photos portray local parochial-school ball teams, and the co-owner, Billy Corrigan, amuses customers with his claim that he can connect any celebrity to the South Side's Little Flower Parish in six steps or fewer.
5. Goldyburgers Sports Bar and Family Restaurant 7316 Circle Avenue, Forest Park (708/366-0750) Founded in 1926 by a pair of brothers named Goldstein, this bar and grill in the western suburbs is famous for its half-pound burgers. The walls of the outdoor beer garden, open in the summer, are covered with ivy purloined from Wrigley Field's outfield walls.
6. Meier's Tavern 235 East Lake Avenue, Glenview (847/724-0477) This 74-year-old roadhouse north of the city has Dab, a fine German pilsner, on tap, and the landscape murals behind the bar have aged to a saloon-air ocher. A few years ago, the bar inspired the setting for an NBC soap opera called Winnetka Road; happily, the show was canceled, which eliminated the risk that Meier's would be overrun with tourists.
7. Schaller's Pump 3714 South Halsted Street (773/376-6332) Established in 1881 and acknowledged to be the oldest bar in Chicago, this South Side pub-restaurant sits across the street from the 11th Ward Democratic headquarters and seven blocks from where the White Sox play ball. Schaller's serves a lively crowd of third- and even fourth-generation regulars and makes a fine broiled top sirloin. Leave your Cubs hat in the car.
8. The Woodlawn Tap 1172 East 55th Street (773/643-5516) It's just across the street from the University of Chicago's campus, but don't expect drinking games at this Hyde Park stalwart—known to regulars as Jimmy's—which has been serving a sedate mix of students, faculty, and neighborhood locals for more than half a century. A bar menu offers burgers and hot and cold sandwiches.