Eat + Drink

No TVs Allowed: 3 Chicago Bars Where Conversation is King

Punch House (Photo: Courtesy Punch House)

One thing not lacking in Chicago is sports bars. You can pretty much hit any neighborhood in almost any part of the city and find a sports bar, with multiple TVs, where people don’t talk to each other except to high five when someone scores a basket, goal or a home run. Sometimes you don’t want to see a TV in a bar. Sometimes you actually want to have a conversation with your friends, your spouse or even just the bartender. In this case, you have plenty of great options, and here are a few of the best non-TV bars in Chicago.

Scofflaw

With a selection of 50-plus quality gins, Scofflaw has been credited with reinvigorating passion for the juniper berry-based spirit in Chicago. The intimate Logan Square tavern, set at the corner of Armitage and Kedzie just up the street from the group’s new hot seafood-focused restaurant Sink | Swim, is a welcoming neighborhood watering hole. On any given night, you’ll find a mix of cool kids in their 20s, business folks returning from work and even the occasional salty dog. The dark-wooden space has plenty of nooks with vintage furniture to hang out and enjoy good conversation while you sip any number of gin-based cocktails like the Chattanooga Outlaw with Letherbee Gin, ruby port, black and white peppercorns, lime, mint and strawberry ice. They do, of course, have a full bar, plenty of craft beers and a kitchen serving up comfort in the form of cheeseburgers, crab cakes, homemade smoked garlic sausages or simple fried chickpeas.

Punch House

If, while hanging out at Punch House in Pilsen, you need a quick break from the engaging conversation happening at your table, don’t glance at your phone at this cool, subterranean nautical-themed bar. Instead, saunter over to the glowing, vibrant fish tank and get lost in the beauty of the undersea world. Or mosey around the space that feels like a 1960s vintage basement replete with couches, wood paneling, antique tchotchkes and a mounted sailfish as you sip on craftily concocted punch ($8 a glass; $32 a carafe; $59 a bowl) served in crystal bowls and glassware. If you happen to be around at midnight for feeding time at the fish tank, enjoy a bourbon on the house as you all recite: “There are good ships, there are wood ships, there are ships that sail the sea. But the best ships are the friendships, and may they always be.” We couldn’t have said it better.

Watershed

Sometimes you want to go where nobody knows your name, but can easily find out since everyone at Watershed is engaged in spirited conversation. Despite being located below upscale Champagne lounge Pops for Champagne in the heart of River North, Watershed is the anti-River North bar. First, it looks like you traveled to your rich uncle’s cool lodge in Northern Wisconsin with dark wood floors, stone walls, high-backed booths and low-flung cloth seating. Second, you can only order spirits, craft beer and wine sourced from the Great Lakes region. Third, the vibe never gets rowdy, allowing you to actually hear the people you’re talking to. Even the music, usually set at a lower volume, is cool as staff will spin vintage vinyl on Sundays. Talk about a conversation starter.