Everyone talks about the housing bubble, but what about the bubbles bubble? Chicagoans live in the era of the five-buck brew, where a night of expensive tipple will make you think about turning to home brewing. But before you start boning up on malt syrup, noble hops and yeast types, know that there are still a lot of great beer deals around town, and it's not all cheap swill that'll bring back drunken college memories of Natty Ice and The Beast. Here's a guide to burst that bubble.
Swig on German brew bargains at Inner Town Pub
Inner Town looks like a hipster Applebee's, but unlike the corporate king of riblets, Inner Town's kitsch is real. Tiffany-style stained glass chandeliers and carved wooden owl based lamps cast their meek light on a museum of thrift store artifacts that includes a stuffed moose head, a mirror depicting what looks like Dolly Parton performing burlesque and a genuine velvet Elvis. The pool is free, while the Ms. Pac Man/Galaga arcade game channeling 1981 is a relatively money grubbing $1. Thankfully you can afford a few ghost chomping rounds, because the beer, including PBR at $2 and Berghoff Amber and Dark for $3, is light on the wallet.
Bypass Bucktown gentrification at The Corner
It seems the mark of a cheap beer bar is stuffed wild game. Other than a wild boar's head hanging over the bar, a few patron photos and a small jar bearing the warning "Ashes of Problem Customers," The Corner is a stark box lined with faux maple paneling. During the day, the old man crowd slumps over the bar, while at night you'll find Bucktown neighbors mixing with a smattering of the tank top, acid jeans and cowboy boot wearing crowd. The mortgages in this part of Chicago might be steep, but the beer is the cheapest around, with $1 Old Style steins and $1.75 Schlitz pints. If you're sick of cheep swill, you can ante up a reasonable $3.25 for Bell's Amber.
Take your pick of cheap American bottles at Margie's Pub
The only inanimate heads at Margie's are from drunken customers and the red plastic Elmo near the cash register. Margie's in her seventies and rarely makes it in these days, but bartender Diana, with her gravelly Marlboro-marinated voice, serves as a perfect stand-in who's quick to dispense misguided wisdom: "Suck down that drink so you can walk better." While you'll be tempted by the endless flavors of Schnapps lined up on the backbar, you don't want to miss Old style on tap at $1.50 a pint or all domestic bottles for $2.25 a bottle. Discerning palates can still score Heineken and Beck's bottles for $3.
Sip premium beers for poor man's prices at Delilah's
"After graduate school, I took stock of what I was good at, and I realized I was really good at drinking." Clearly Delilah's owner Mike Miller was also good at economics, realizing that if you offer cheap prices on decent beer, you'll pack your bar, even on weeknights. And there's always a bargain in the punk-rock confines of Delilah's. The schedule changes weekly, but lately you can score Goose Island 312 ($2) or Quebec microbrews like Maudite and Chambly Noir ($3) at micro-prices. On Monday there's $1 American beer and on Saturday German brew Warsteiner is only $2. If you like to start your drinking with a shot, $2 bourbon abounds.
Bone up on your Polish language skills at Stella's Sports Bar
Stella's looks like a Nascar grandstand, with a garland of plastic flags crisscrossing the ceiling and checkered flag posters hawking Miller and Budweiser products on the wall. The backbar looks like a shelf at Sam's Wine and Spirits, with hundreds of unopened glass bottles glinting in the overhead light. Stella, a sturdy Polish lady clad in flower print dresses with a poofy halo of black curly hair, doles out lessons in polish beer pronunciation. Indeed, Okocim (okocheem) and Zywiec (je veets) are available in ample supply, but at $4 a bottle, they're a little too rich for the wallet. Instead, order up bottles of Miller Lite or draft PBR and dole out a dziekuje (Polish for "thank you") for the $2 tab.