The Barrelhouse Flat looks like a traditional Chicago bar with booths, TVs, and exposed brick walls. But looks can be deceiving. Summon up the courage to navigate through the thick crowd of college coeds at this Lincoln Park establishment and you will be rewarded. Why? A speakeasy awaits, and it’s the definition of “hidden gem.”
At the back of the building, a hostess will greet you before pointing you along to the second-floor lounge – Barrelhouse Flat’s classy respite from crowds. The chaotic buzz of the bar below will fade with each step, soon replaced by the tinkling of a piano. When you turn the corner and step across the threshold, you’ll instantly feel relaxed. You’ve made it. Take solace knowing that you’ll spend the rest of your evening in an impeccably decorated speakeasy with dim, romantic lighting, patterned wallpaper, velvet couches, and leather chairs – you’ll feel like a warmly welcomed guest in a well-to-do old friend’s home.
Head past the beautiful polished bar to a cozy seat at small table – this isn’t anything like the “standing room only” situation downstairs. The perfectly arranged seating areas are designed for date nights, small groups, and good conversation. If you’d prefer a round of billiards with your cocktail, ask to be seated in the front room. The pool table is free and up for grabs. Plush benches line the windows of this room and overlook Lincoln Avenue, while a set of wingback chairs keep warm and cozy in front of the fireplace.
As you browse their inspired craft cocktail menu, choose from Prohibition-era punches or seasonal specialties that make many local publications’ “best drink” lists. The menu is divided up by whiskey, rum, and gin, but if you’re a whiskey and bourbon lover, you’ve really found your home. Classics like Sazeracs, Manhattans, and mint juleps sit side-by-side with lesser-known legends like the sophisticated, herbaceous Creole cocktail.
After that serious refreshment, you’ll need a snack. Browse the small but mighty food menu: There are bar snacks for everyone, including flavored popcorn, pretzels, and frites – plus some more substantial items, like sliders, poutine, and lobster mac and cheese. Don’t forget dessert – the menu changes occasionally, but you might be lucky enough to order the millionaire shortbread. It’s topped with salted whiskey toffee, chocolate ganache, and homemade marshmallow spread. It’s like a super-fancy, grown-up s’more.
Exiting through the crowded bar downstairs will be a totally different experience than when you first entered Barrelhouse Flat a few hours before. It’s like spending an afternoon at a spa – you’ll float back into the real world with a little smile on your face.