You've had a hard day on the office hamster wheel and need to unwind, but tomorrow's reports aren't going write themselves. Or maybe you're an aspiring author who can't decide whether to finish researching that novel or go all Faulkner on six mint juleps down at the corner dive. Whatever your drink-versus-work dilemma, we've got you covered with wi-fi-friendly (free!) watering holes that let you have your liquor and laptop, too.
Mother Hubbard's Sports Pub
This River North haven for sports fans boasts "more big screen than the ESPN Zone"—the small front bar alone features 14 TVs of the regular, plasma and projection screen variety. After nabbing the secret password from the bartender, we logged on and surfed with zero difficulty, that is, until the deafening, incessant drone of sports commentators drove us out the door. Other than tracking your fantasy teams online, don't count on getting any real work done here. When the crowd gets too raucous, push the laptop aside and make room for a plate baby back ribs and a pint of one of the 22 brews on tap.
Lion Head Pub
We found Lincoln Park's Lion Head Pub so accommodating that we nearly scrapped the rest of the tour and dug in for the afternoon. At two o'clock on a Saturday, the spacious pub was mostly empty, letting us grab a seat by the bright open windows and admire the ornate woodwork snaking around the bar. Unlike Mother Hubbard's, the pub had all 25 TVs tastefully spaced and thankfully muted in favor of rock hits by the likes of Audioslave and Coldplay. The lax atmosphere and brisk connection meant we could finally get some work accomplished, check our email and even IM a few compadres before packing it in. Stick around a little later 'till the crowds roll in and ask for a Table Tapper ($15 domestic or $22 import), a tapped 2.5-liter beaker of beer that goes great with Lion Head's Kobe beef sliders (three for $5.50).
Vintner's Cellar Winery
Though part of a chain, these micro-wineries are customized to the proprietor's taste, and this tidy, subdued storefront in Lakeview takes Chicago as its inspiration. Vinos with familiar names like Michigardonnay and Navy Piernot Grigio are fermented onsite, and patrons can make, bottle and label their own for special occasions (starting at $359 for a six-gallon batch, about $11 per bottle). The gracious hostess will walk you through Vitner's selection with patient explanations, a good thing since the wireless mostly dragged and dropped our connection. But with $12 tastings, pleasant conversation and earthy abstract canvases on the wall, we were happy to power down and take a break.
This Logan Square bar has the look of an old saloon, with a weathered upright piano, classic brewery ads from the 1800s and a long mirror stretching along one wall. Unfortunately, when we walked in, it also reeked like a beer-soaked basement, and the restrooms induced unwelcome Barfly flashbacks. All in all, the Pabst were cold and cheap ($2 a pop), and the free wi-fi was smokin' (possibly the fastest connection of all the bars tested). You don't need a password to get on, which is great so long as the "Unsecured Connection" warning doesn't scare you. Some tattered loveseats, thrift store chairs and random islands provide plenty of room to get down to business before the live bands load in.
Wicker Park Tavern
This spruced-up dive (formerly known as the Borderline Tap) comes with shabby-chic furniture, high dining tables and barstools, comfy armchairs, leather sofas and coffee tables wedged into nooks. On the Tuesday night we visited, a casual cross-section of Wicker Park locals crammed in for $2 burger and fries (we even caught Manny Flores kicking back a few feet from a skater crowd). The wi-fi warmed up reluctantly, and the first few pages loaded painfully slow, but once the airwaves cleared, we were off and running. Despite noise from the crowd and touchscreen juke, the tavern proved surprisingly relaxing and distraction-free.
Check out these other spots with wi-fi on tap:
Travel the World Wide Web at the Map Room.
Grab some pie with your wi-fi at Piece.
Dodge the Michigan Avenue crowd, and head to Jake Melnick's Corner Tap.
Order from the extensive wine list while you surf at Four Farthings Tavern & Grill.
Finish up your work and then move to the dance floor at InnExile.