The pro of Big Ten bars? There’s almost no place in the city that can make you feel like you’re living the undergrad dream again, especially in Chicago.
The downside? Who wants to go to a bar where you feel unwelcome just because you don’t like the bar’s team?
However, the school they’re all about isn’t the only draw of these Big Ten bars. While the red candy stripes of IU or the orange-navy combo of U of I may deter you or draw you in, there’s plenty else that will make you stay.
Here are some Chicago bars that, although they’re Big Ten (plus one exception), have a whole lot more to offer than just a logo. In no particular order:
Will’s Northwoods Inn
Wisconsin Bar – Makes you feel like you’re in the Northwoods – Amazing Cheese Curds and food in general
Also one of the city’s top-notch Green Bay Packers hangouts, Will’s could have the coolest and most Wisconsinite beer garden of all time. There’s ivy on the walls trimmed around three big screen TVs, a really sweet Leinenkugel’s mural, life-size statues of a bear and a moose, plus a really sweet Leinenkugel’s mural. If you (understandably) can’t stand the Badgers or Packers, head on over for literally any other game and order the cheese curds. You’re welcome.
Barn and Company
U of I bar – Smokehouse that Ron Swanson would be proud of
There’s little doubt this is the premier gameday bar for Illini football, even more so after Durkins made the switch to Penn State in the last year. Centrally located for anyone in Lincoln Park/Lakeview at the Sheffield, Lincoln and Wrightwood intersection, the “Barn” has an awesome BBQ menu to go with a solid bloody mary bar. The outdoor patio seating area is excellent as well. Don’t be surprised if you catch delicious smells of the smokehouse at work when you walk by on Wrightwood. Might as well stop in at that point.
IU/Blackhawks bar – Batting Cages
Taking a hint from nearby Wrigley Field, Sluggers is known for their full-out ensemble of batting cages on the second level – the perfect way to stay active while you order numerous beers from the second floor bar. Just be sure to head to the “slow-pitch” cages after Miller Lite number three. A great spot to watch both the Hoosiers and Blackhawks, Sluggers is always a party during the summer on Cubs gameday Saturdays. Oh, and parts of everybody’s favorite Keanu Reeves flick “Hardball” were filmed at Sluggers. RIP, G-baby.
U of I and IU bar among plenty of other teams – Literal country honky-tonk – Off track betting on site
It’s always a good start if your bar has the most TVs of all Chicago bars, with 120+. As you could guess, there isn’t a bad seat in the house at Joe’s when watching sports. Predominantly known as an Illini bar, “Joe’s on Weed” also claims allegiance to Arkansas, TCU and SMU college football. Plus the Bears, Blackhawks, New Orleans Saints and San Diego Chargers.
At this sports bar honky tonk mashup, if there’s not a game-watch going down at Joe’s, there’s bound to be a country concert. From local bands to big names like Eric Church and Brad Paisley, you’re pretty much guaranteed a good show. Throw in Trackside Chicago -an off-track betting location on site – and you have the most diverse bar in Chicago.
All 14 of the Big Ten schools – A beer for everyone
Right in the Southport corridor, Justin’s makes it pretty apparent what they’re about with every Big Ten school’s flag hanging outside (they added Rutgers and Maryland too). Justin’s has solid food specials, a pretty awesome beer garden, and darts – always a good drinking activity. Head there on any Saturday or Sunday during the fall to enjoy a diverse atmosphere of fans as multiple games play on their many big plasma screen TVs.
Wisconsin – Number one beer bar in the country
While their West Division street location is solid enough, their real street cred comes from being voted number one beer bar in the country at the 2013 Nightclub/Bar Awards. While there may be a few too many scarves and v-necks in the photos of the bar, they aren’t pretentious about their beer selection and 50 rotating taps. Their menu has a color-coded beer/food pairing system, which is good because while there’s a ton of beer, there’s also a ton of food leading to infinite possibilities. They’re not stingy on their food choices either, offering everything from Ahi Tuna to burgers. There’s even a specialty pizza called the Notorious P.I.G, which is a pizza smeared in tomato sauce and topped with bacon, pulled pork, prosciutto, pepperoni, sausage, and onion that would make PETA weep.
With a two story keg cooler in the center of the room and table taps that let you pour your own beer at your table, this place has something for beer and food lovers alike and is both a bar and nightclub. Its hipster and sports fan, bar fly and clubbed, Wisonsinite and other school fan alike, the ultimate fusion of things.
Indiana basketball/Nebraska football bar – Fishbowls, Amazing Beer Garden
As an Indiana basketball and Nebraska football bar on the highly coveted Sheffield Ave., Kirkwood is a mixing of worlds as it is. But with an open atmosphere, cool beer garden, and multiple fandoms alike, it’s a cool place to go for a game. Kirkwood has an amazing beer garden in the back and has tasty burgers to chow on while you chug. And if you really want to feel like you’re back in college, check out the fishbowl part of the menu and feel like it’s spring break 2013 again.
Derby Bar & Grill
Mizzou bar – Mothafreakin brunch
Okay, here’s the exception. Mizzou is definitely in the SEC, but its large Chicago fanbase makes it a natural fit. Plus, Derby, the top Mizzou gameday bar in Chicago, has Chicken and Waffle bites. That’s literally all there is to say here. There’s a list of southern comfort brunchy foods you can’t go wrong with, but I doubt you’ll be reading anything past that first listing on the menu, because chicken and waffles. Check ’em out on West Webster Ave and bring a craving for southern comfort style food and drinks.