In a city that birthed the modern skyscraper, it only makes sense that so many Chicago rooftop bars overlook the gorgeous skyline. And they couldn’t be hotter. In the last five years, place after place, each with a great cocktail menu, has popped up—even in unusual places like atop Northwestern Memorial Hospital. You can find plenty of rooftop bars in Chicago’s River North, Lincoln Park, and Loop neighborhoods, so here are just a few hot spots you definitely don’t want to miss.
The J. Parker
The J. Parker at the top of the Hotel Lincoln, has arguably one of the best views of all Chicago rooftop bars. When you and friends gather to peruse and drink from the cocktail menu, you’re mesmerized by the view overlooking Lincoln Park Zoo, North Avenue Beach, and Lake Michigan. And since they installed a retractable roof in the summer of 2015, you can use the chic outdoor space year-round. Even with the roof up, drink as if it were summer and order the appropriately named “Feelin’ the Spirit” made with locally crafted Ceres Vodka (from Chicago Distilling Co.). This clean base spirit serves as a fantastic conduit for the slightly bitter herbal Cappelletti Aperitivo and the floral St. Germain with a bit of lemon. It’s a wintertime refresher.
Walking into Drumbar feels like you’re stepping into a stately manor or super cool speakeasy. With plush-tufted brown leather couches, gorgeous wood throughout, and a marble fireplace, it’s a room that begs you to feel sophisticated. Think you don’t like brandy? That may be because you haven’t yet tried Chicago’s Rhine Hall brandy. Order the Mother Superior—even the name is more elevated—with Rhine Hall’s signature apple brandy combined with Amaro Abano, cinnamon, and chocolate bitters. It’s the perfect drink to take outside on a cool night as you relax by the fire pits. Can’t you just taste the sophistication?
Fewer places made as big of a splash as Cindy’s did when the refurbished 1893 building reopened in May of 2015 as one of the city’s hottest hotels, the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel. This always-hopping gorgeous Chicago rooftop bar overlooking Millennium Park and Michigan Lake adds to the heat. It doesn’t have a head bartender, but rather a spirit guide in the form of Nandini Khaund, a total cocktail pro who gets utterly creative with her creations. She often mixes in soothing teas, kombucha, and other fresh ingredients so the drinks are actually (somewhat) healthy for you.
One of the newest Chicago rooftop bars, GreenRiver surprised the city with its stellar cocktail service and fantastic food courtesy of Danny Meyer (one of New York’s best restaurateurs) and the guys behind Dead Rabbit, the hot Manhattan bar. GreenRiver sits on top of a medical building, but the potions that cure what ails you here taste a lot better going down than on the floors below. Executive Chef Aaron Lirette creates gorgeous plates featuring seasonal and local ingredients, while head bartender Julia Momose’s (formerly of the Aviary) cocktail menu is organized by key ingredient—rye, agave, sugar cane, and juniper. Each drink and culinary treat builds onto itself and the results are miniature masterpieces.
How do you envision the rooftop bar on the Virgin Hotel? Yes, you get great cocktails. Yes, it’s rock ‘n’ roll. But you’ll be surprised by the variety of DJs and live music acts at Cerise. While most Chicago rooftop bars have views of the lake, Cerise offers a grittier view of the iconic architecture in the Loop with the ‘L’ trains cruising down below you. You might order a beer or the refreshing Far East Gimlet made with either vodka or gin and their house-made yuzu-lime cordial off their cocktail menu. Before you head out for the night, sneak one floor down into one of the city’s secret intimate music rooms—you never know who may show up.