Pilsen, like most Chicago neighborhoods, has deep roots in its immigrant heritage. This Chicago artist’s haven has become synonymous with world class Latin cuisine and neighborhood redevelopment plans. The current scene embraces both traits with a varied and impressive choice of bars and taverns.
This authentic Pilsen area favorite is so cool it’s cash only, and you’ll still want to spend time here. Skylark’s singular green door opens to a huge, movie set worthy, ‘working-class’ bar scene complete with pinball and a vintage photo booth. Vince Vaughn liked it so much that The Break Up was filmed here. Head for the overstuffed chairs centered around low tables and get the Tots and beer. Choose from PBR, craft, or one of the ten on tap.
While the spelling of the name is a tribute to the neighborhood’s 1870s influx of Czech industrial workers, PL-ZEŇ covers all bases with a menu and décor devoted to the current mix of the area’s artists and contemporary Mexican influence. Known for its beer selection, tacos, and Kobe burgers, PL-ZEŇ’s food pulls you in as much as the bold design. Little Red Riding Hood as imagined by Colombian muralist Alejandro Arango gives the customer a hint of what to expect from this funky Latin gastropub. The craft beer and cider lists are extensive and offer a ‘something for everyone’ pairing to the delicious food. Don’t be shy about asking the helpful staff for suggestions. Try the shrimp tacos and Meyer lemon margarita and a Vandenburg Cider.
Pilsen’s first entertainment center, Thalia Hall, has been updated to reflect its bohemian roots and is now home to Dusek’s Board & Beer, a bar/tavern combo that offers the perfect blend of historic elegance and exceptional food combined with a warm and inviting vibe. Patrons are greeted with a friendly smile from the hostess and an option to mingle in the waiting area positioned under the huge blackboard displaying each day’s beer selection. While Dusek’s is more elite gastropub than hip bar, the bar area is lively and filled with couples and small groups waiting for a table. The mixologists have a laid back, one drink at a time energy that embraces over thinkers who need to read every page of the extensive cocktail menu before ordering. Order the PEI mussels with the harissa butter and a craft beer. Dusek’s is taking an extra step to seal its good neighbor reputation by operating a ‘Cans for Cans’ charity food drive in house, benefiting the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Drop off your canned food item and get a can of Revolution, a locally brewed Chicago favorite.
After eating (and drinking) upstairs at Dusek’s Board & Beer, heading downstairs to The Punch House, the lower level retro paradise that offers an impressive punch menu. A bright white neon sign lights the way as patrons descend to a funky, dimly lit bar that every ’70s design enthusiast should see. The chic banquettes capped with individual lighting are perfect for conversation and offer the perfect view of the impressive, 225 gallon aquarium behind the bar. The absence of a big boxy TV may seem like an oversight in a room designed to recall the glory of the 1970s family room, but the calming effect of no visual media is mesmerizing. The atmosphere hums with friendly conversation, and a DJ sustains the funky retro vibe with a perfectly balanced music-to-conversation ratio. If you are looking to up the cool factor exponentially for your group, ask if the ‘hidden’ private room is available. Order a bowl of punch and whatever you can off the abbreviated Dusek’s menu. Try the delicious Juicy Lucy and a picnic punch.
Cantina by day and dance floor by night, this versatile bar has been going strong for two years. La Vaca, AKA ‘The Cow,’ is a kitschy, over the top yet playful take on the Mexican bar. Cows are depicted on everything from margaritas to wall hangings, yet beef is not what’s special here. This cantina’s most notable menu items are the vast margarita options and the al pastor tacos. La Vaca is home to Pilsen’s best outdoor patio. The over-21 crowd is lively after 7pm, and the bar has also instituted a ‘no hoodie’ dress code. The sign on the door prohibits the ubiquitous urban fashion statement, as well as Justin Bieber and Donald Trump. The bar is long, well lit, and staffed with an attentive and friendly team of bartenders. A few choice parking spots are available in the front private lot, but beware of getting blocked in.