There's nothing sexier than when you descend unto a basement bar. They're mysterious, and make you feel as though you're harboring one of the best secrets in the world.
So on those nights when you don't feel like being in plain view at the hotel lounge, you should seek out one of Chicago's top basement bars. They range from River North tiki powerhouse Three Dots and a Dash to a Pilsen-based watering hole specializing in punch.
The Lowdown: The French-inspired Bavette's boasts a lower-level lounge that you enter from the back of the main dining room. The music downstairs throbs with high-energy hip-hop and rare grooves that you're likely to not hear anywhere else around town. The room is dimly lit and outfitted with booths and bar seating. Reservations are recommended to reserve a booth downstairs.
Cuisine: You can order the restaurant's entire menu down here, including a bone-in, dry-aged ribeye; shellfish towers of oysters, jumbo shrimp and lobster; buttermilk fried chicken; or short rib Stroganoff with hand-cut fettuccine and cremini mushroom.
Beverages: The menu is comprised of French cocktails (including sparkling classics French 75 and Kir Royale), classic cocktails, an extensive whiskey menu and a nice selection of craft beers.
Crowd: Typical River North revelers, plus tourists and a celebrity every now and then.
Address: 218 W. Kinzie St., 312-624-8154
The Lowdown: Located underneath Sushi Dokku, Booze Box serves as a street-y Japanese lounge. It's too polished to be gritty--with its well-designed interior and sleek furnishings--but the music and vibe make this the sort of place where you want to escape when all the other West Loop bars are filled with scenesters. A deejay spins downtempo hip-hop, acid jazz and dub. No reservations necessary.
Cuisine: Highlights on the food menu include chicken karaage (Japanese fried chicken), tsukune (Japanese meatballs), tangy ribeye skewers and a host of maki rolls.
Beverages: The menu plays up its Japanese origins with accents in cocktails such as wasabi olives in the Sakitini and fresh lemongrass in a bourbon basil elixir. There's also a curated list of sake offerings, wine on draft, and Japanese beer.
Crowd: Eclectic, fashionable and mostly those who work and/or live nearby
Address: 823 W. Randolph St., 312-455-8238
High Five Ramen
The Lowdown: High Five is simply one of the best ramen shops in the city. Located directly beneath Green Street Smoked Meats, it pays homage to trendy like-minded lounges in Japan. Owner Brendan Sodikoff describes the music as "based around sultry, dark Tokyo" with "modern, big and deep tones." There's always a 45-minute to hour wait to get in because there's only 12 seats at the bar. Put your name on the list, leave them your cell number, and they'll text you when you're up. In the meantime, enjoy one of the many cocktails at the upstairs bar.
Cuisine: You'll find only four different noodle choices on the menu, which include the choice to make it spicier or a seafood version.
Beverages: Beverages consist of Japanese beer, sake and two slushy cocktails (Coconut Painkiller and Yuzu Last Word).
Crowd: It's always full of young professionals, hipsters and random fashionable folks.
Address: 112 N. Green St., 312-754-0431
La Mez Agave Lounge
The Lowdown: Mercadito Chicago's mezcal-focused party room offers happy hour and late-night menus to soak up all that alcohol. You'll find at least 75 different varieties of mezcal from several regions in Mexico.
Cuisine: Small, share-able plates
Beverages: You'll find mostly mezcal cocktails on the menu.
Crowd: It's always full of young professionals.
Address: 108 W. Kinzie St., 312-329-9555
The Lowdown: Stylish Japanese concept Momotaro is from the Boka Restaurant Group, which is also behind Boka, GT Fish & Oyster and Girl and the Goat. The low-slung ceiling gives the vibrant underbar a sexy vibe, as does the downtown Tokyo style of the decor and background grooves. Also setting the scene are hand-painted Japanese menus, moody neon lights and vintage Tokyo street signs. It's accessible through the restaurant as well as from a separate outside door. Seating is on a first come, first served basis.
Cuisine: The menu is completely different from what you'll find upstairs in the main dining room. Light bites such as smoked bacon, tuna airbread and hand rolls of barbecued unagi and smoked salmon skin are what you'll find.
Beverages: Crafted cocktails, sakes and a quality selection of Japanese whiskey may be found on the menu.
Crowd: Date night for stylish couples, plus groups of well-heeled, in-the-know diners
Address: 820 W. Lake St., 312-733-4818
The Office at Aviary
The Lowdown: The West Loop is clearly in the lead as the hottest neighborhood for dining and drinking. It doesn't hurt that it's also home to the award-winning Aviary cocktail lounge, which boasts the tiny, opulent The Office bar on its lower level. Because it only offers 18 seats, guests must get an invitation or book a party (for up to 26 people).
Cuisine: Menu changes seasonally; it's mostly composed of finger foods like oysters, Deviled eggs and a few fancy small-plate dishes.
Beverages: The craft cocktail menu is completely different from what you'll find in Aviary. There is also an extensive whiskey list, and many offerings you won't find anywhere in Chicago.
Crowd: Lucky people who have been invited by the owners. Sometimes guests who dine at Next Restaurant will score an invitation.
Address: 953-955 W. Fulton Market, 312-226-0858
The Lowdown: The cocktail-oriented dungeon of Dusek's and Thalia Hall feels like a vintage den reminiscent of the 1960s and 1970s. Contemporary and classic punches are featured, as well as exotica, acid jazz, soul and funk music spun by a deejay in the corner. Seating consists of booths along the walls, reclaimed sofas and plenty of bar seating where patrons may gaze upon an enormous aquarium spanning much of the room. The seating is on a first come, first served basis.
Cuisine: Share-able foods like beef fat frites, fondue, oven-roasted crab dip and roasted chili churros.
Beverages: Classic and seasonal punches, but also beer and wine
Crowd: Local young professionals from the Pilsen neighborhood, as well as those who dine upstairs in Dusek's.
Address: 1227 W. 18th St., 312-526-3851
The Lowdown: Situated under Henry's, Rec Room almost feels like that basement bash you were forbidden to attend as a teen-ager. Raw hip-hop, funk, soul and rock blast from the speakers and people dance anywhere they see fit. There's a free jukebox and deejays occasionally spin. The bottled cocktails are fresh and inventive, grab a comfy seat at a table if they're free. It's open Fridays and Saturdays.
Cuisine: At the stroke of midnight, Rec Room opens up its fridge, which is stocked with pizza, popsicles, fried chicken from DMK’s County BBQ and more for guests to enjoy. Everything is complimentary.
Beverages: Sip on hand bottled, carbonated classics like the G & T and Margarita, which are also available in large format “bottle service” for the table. Need some liquid courage to bust a move? Get the punch-a boozy concoction of Bacardi 151, blueberry, lime, and Fernet. There are also a number of shots and craft beers available.
Crowd: Locals and tourists revel in this boisterous River North lounge.
Address: 18 W. Hubbard St., 312-955-8018
The Lowdown: The longtime subterranean dance club still matches up to its more contemporary competition. Smart Bar caters to dance music and the electronic music scene and it stays open after hours. It's directly underneath Metro.
Beverages: Full-service bar
Crowd: Dance music enthusiasts
Address: 3730 N. Clark St., 773-549-4140
Three Dots and a Dash
The Lowdown: The upscale Polynesian pub underneath Bub City re-invents everything from the Beachcomber to the Zombie. For entrance, guests walk through a torch lit-up alley on Hubbard Street and head downstairs for the action, which includes female servers in hula skirts, a lively crowd and music ranging from 1960s surfer tunes to old-school hip-hop. Reservations highly recommended.
Cuisine: Delightful island fare like Thai fried chicken, 5-spice ribs, coconut shrimp and pork belly buns.
Beverages: Tiki-inspired cocktails ranging from the classics to contemporary punches like Blood of the Kapu Tiki, which serve up to four guests. In addition, there's a rotating frozen classic tiki drink.
Crowd: Locals and tourists revel in this boisterous River North lounge.
Address: 435 N. Clark St., 312-610-4220