Scenic Sips: Bars with Great Views in Chicago

Grabbing drinks with friends isn’t just about the cocktail– the location is equally important. Luckily Chicago has some of the best “scenic sip” options out there thanks to its stunning architecture. If you’re looking for a new place to try around the city, check out one of these bars with great views in Chicago. While you’re there, you can also check out a number of the other great things to do in Chicago, from our friends at Eventbrite, which range from beer fests to music festivals.

Raised

Raised Terrace Evening bars with great views in chicago
Raised looks onto the heart of Chicago. Photo courtesy of Raised Bar, taken by Isaac Maiselman.

Named after the iconic drawbridges that line the Chicago River, Raised is home to a rooftop bar with great views of Chicago in every direction.  What sometimes goes unrecognized is that the view is just as great from inside too. They love to highlight local breweries and have over 40 beers on the menu. Inspired by urban gardeners and hop growers, the name also reflects the use of raised gardens in urban areas like Chicago.

This bar is atop the Renaissance Chicago Downtown Hotel and looks out onto the Chicago River, where you can see boats gliding by while enjoying a cocktail made by one of their mixologists. The location, at State and Wacker, gives you great views of many of the city’s most iconic buildings. Marina City and Mies van der Rohe’s AMA Building are across the bridge, while the historic Michigan and Wacker skyscrapers, like the Wrigley Building, are two blocks northeast. To the south, of course, is the north edge of the Loop and that great State Street. Those surroundings make this among the best bars with great views in Chicago. Plus, you’re only a few minutes walk from the starting point for the Historic Chicago Walking Bar Tour.

Cindy’s Rooftop

cindy's interior Chicago bars with great views
The rooftop view from Cindy’s is dazzling. Image courtesy of Cindy’s.

This award-winning restaurant and cocktail bar has a view of classic Chicago landmarks. Right outside is Millennium Park, home to Cloud Gate and Jay Pritzker Pavilion.  If you look directly out the glass atrium walls you’ll see Lake Michigan, giving Cindy’s its self-proclaimed “Great Lakes beach house with a view” description.  During the warmer months, the restaurant is home to an open-air terrace where you can enjoy dinner or just a quick drink after work with coworkers.  No matter the time, day, or season, Cindy’s is a spot worth visiting.

We know Cindy’s quite well, of course, since it’s a rooftop bar atop the historic Chicago Athletic Association Hotel. Our 1893 World’s Fair Tour concludes in this landmark structure, which was the home of one of the city’s most illustrious private clubs for a century. You can still see that clubhouse atmosphere in the amazing Venetian Gothic architecture of the facade and second-floor “Drawing Room.” Or just come on the tour. 😉

North Pond

bars with great views in Chicago North Pond Lincoln Park
Urbs in horto is easily seen from North Pond, one of our favorite bars with great views in Chicago. Photo via Flickr.

As one of Chicago’s oldest restaurants, North Pond has a lot to offer. It was built in 1912, used originally as a place for skaters to warm up after spending an afternoon on the ice.  The location is impressive on its own, but combined with the history, North Pond is one of our “must try” spots. The restaurant focuses on sustainability and gets their seasonal products from local markets and farmers. North Pond also stands out for their efforts in helping the community. A dollar is added to all bottles of wine, which is then donated towards a nonprofit. Being nestled on a pond in Lincoln Park creates the perfect cozy atmosphere for a snowy Friday night overlooking the park, with a drink in hand.

We also love being able to suggest a bar with a great view in Chicago that’s not in downtown. You can see the Hancock Center and a few other major Gold Coast towers across the waters. But your immediate surroundings are the meadows and glacial moraines of historic Lincoln Park. Plus, there’s a church hidden behind a skyscraper only a few blocks away.

The Signature Room

Speaking of the Hancock Center! Located on the 95th floor of the John Hancock Center, or 875 N. Michigan Avenue if you prefer, The Signature Room has breathtaking views of the whole city.  Although drinks can be a little pricey, there aren’t many places in town that offer a panoramic view as spectacular as this one.  If you can, try to get a window seat (or use the restroom if you’re a lady) and it’ll make your time and money spent well worth it.

It’s hard to name a significant piece of Chicago architecture that’s not visible from The Signature Room. The most eye-catching, though, may be the other “supertall” skyscrapers. Arrayed from left to right as you gaze out the windows, the Aon Center, Trump Tower, and Willis Tower all soar over 1,000 feet above the city. The Vista Tower will join that club quite soon. These can look particularly enchanting when fog envelops every other building.

Chicago's scenic sips The Signature Room Hancock Center
The Signature Room belongs on any list of bars with great views in Chicago. Photo via Wikimedia.

The J. Parker

The J. Parker is a great choice if you want to be outside, but the weather’s just not right.  With an area for guests to enjoy that’s fully enclosed by glass, this restaurant and bar gives you the chance to enjoy the outdoors while being inside.  If the weather’s great, there are also 140 seats outside to choose from while sipping on your handcrafted cocktail. The J. Parker is located on top of Hotel Lincoln with a view of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline.

An older piece of Chicago architecture is worth spotting from this bar with great views of Chicago. Just to the southwest, St. Michael’s Church is one of the only buildings to survive the Great Chicago Fire. The German community built this soaring Catholic Church in 1869. In fact, it was the tallest building in Chicago for 16 years. The walls remained standing despite the blaze, though a lot of reconstruction was needed. That makes it one of only a handful of examples of pre-fire architecture in Chicago.

BIG Bar

With the continent’s longest free standing bar, BIG Bar is a site that needs to be seen. There are floor-to-ceiling glass windows, with an impressive view of the city.  Dividing the glass windows in the middle of the bar is a liquor tower that bartenders climb to grab whatever they need next. There are signature cocktails to try out and TVs above the bar which makes it the perfect place to watch the big game while enjoying a great view.

Out the window is the glittering skyline of River North. You can blow friends away by dropping this truth bomb: all the land across the river is artificial landfill. It all started when the US Army Corps of Engineers straightened and then reversed the Chicago River. Engineers built a massive embankment on the north side to keep the river and lake waters separate. The lapping of waves against this barricade deposited sand and silt. Over the decades that accumulated into the ground we now call River North. Wild, huh?

These are only a handful of the bars with great views in Chicago, of course. We hope to see you at one of them this summer.

– Alex Bean, Content Manager and Tour Guide

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Ellen

Private Tour Coordinator and Tour Guide

There is no shortage of things to discover in Chicago—I love being an urban explorer and uncovering its hidden places. I have an MA in Public History from Loyola University Chicago, and I have worked as a museum educator and kindergarten teacher. My desire to learn new things fuels my passion for educating others, which I get to experience every day as a Chicago tour guide. I live in the northern neighborhood of Rogers Park.

“Our guide Ellen was exceptional and gifted with a great personal touch.”
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Jen

Tour Guide

Whether you are a first-time visitor or a lifelong resident, the vibrant history and modern majesty of Chicago never ceases to amaze. I’m a graduate of Columbia College with an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Art. I’ve worked for many years as an educator at City Colleges of Chicago. As tour guide at Chicago Detours, I integrate my enthusiasm for culture and architecture with my passion as an educator. West Town/Noble Square area is home for me.

“Jen was a perfect storyteller and kept us spellbound for hours.”
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Elyse

Tour Guide

With our Chicago neighborhoods, vibrant cultural institutions and nearly two centuries of larger-than-life stories, there’s never a dull moment here! I’m a fifth generation Chicagoan and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to guiding tours, I’m a creative writer and amateur genealogist. I also enjoy the city’s dynamic theater scene. You can also read overlooked stories from 19th-century newspapers on my “Second Glance History” blog. I live in River North.

Anthony

Tour Guide

Chicago is unique as it always evolves into the future while holding on to the past. I’m fascinated by how people latch on to old architecture but happily pave over others. My background is in theater and performance and I’ve been a tour guide here for more than 10 years. Currently I’m finishing my Master’s in Public History at Loyola University because I love to teach the history of this scrappy city. I’m in the Edgewater neighborhood.

Marie

Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

Chicago’s history is so fascinating, you could spend a lifetime uncovering its secrets…I’m willing to give it a try! I have an M.A. in US History from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and then pursued doctoral studies in Urban History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I love to learn new aspects of Chicago’s rich history and then share my knowledge as a tour guide with Chicago Detours. I live in Ravenswood.

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Sonny

Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

As a fourth generation Chicagoan, I have been living and loving Chicago by bike, on foot, public transit or automobile. I am a graduate of UIC where through the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, began my eagerness to understand the nature, history and impacts of urban planning and development. It is incredibly rewarding to give back to this wonderful city by helping out in the office of Chicago Detours. I live in the incredibly diverse neighborhood of Albany Park.
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Alex

Content Manager and Tour Guide

Chicago has so many neighborhoods, buildings, and by-ways that it’s hard to go long without seeing something new, or something familiar from a new angle. I studied Cinema History for my M.A. from the University of Chicago. I’ve worked as a culture writer for various publications and as an educator of the humanities at the City Colleges of Chicago. I’m thrilled to share my love of this city’s busy past and unique architectural spaces with Chicago Detours. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

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Amanda Scotese

Executive Director and Tour Guide

I’m an interpreter of personal stories from the past and the city’s landscape. I love to imagine what originally happened inside old unmarked buildings, and what forces have shaped their design. I studied Chicago history, architectural history, and anything Chicago-related through my M.A. in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. My love for stories was enriched by my B.A. in Literature from the University of Michigan. I’ve written travel articles for publications like Rick Steves’ Italy best-selling travel guides, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of West Avondale.
“You can TELL Amanda is hyper-passionate about doing the research and getting the story that nobody’s heard before.”
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