Picture living in a dorm room the size of a closet, and that's how it feels to booze at Matchbox. Thankfully, it makes up for its small size (a long but super narrow, tapering-rectangle shape) with well-poured drinks. Chicago bargoers flock to Matchbox for its legendary libations, and for good reason—vodka and tequila infused with melons, apricots and pineapples sit in huge bottles, and its booze-soaked cherries will make you question why God didn't grow 'em like this.
You won't find Miller or Bud on display above the bar. Instead, the varied beer lists boast mixed IPAs and Lambics, bottle brews from Louisiana and San Francisco and Carlsberg on draft for $4. Order a Manhattan ($6.50 with Maker's Mark) on the rocks and savor it slowly as you delight in the aforementioned cherries.
Like an old pair of jeans, Matchbox is beat up, lived in and well-loved. Pleasantly gritty and unabashedly dark, its decor fosters a serious sense of self-history. Numerous black-and-white photos of how the space has evolved hang on the enclosing brick walls. Makeshift bookcases hold dozens of bottles of wines just waiting to be drunk.
During warmer months, you can hangout on the patio, but to truly experience Matchbox, cram your way in and make friends with your neighbor. The adjoining Silver Palm restaurant serves food, but with drinks like these, who needs to eat? Generic books of matches line the bar, but a place with this much individuality begs for personalized matchboxes plugging its self-proclaimed slogan: "Most intimate bar in Chicago."
Average cost: $10-$20
Centerstage Reviewer: Karl Klockars