Thanks to a quirky liquor law, many restaurants in Chicago are BYOB, meaning you can bring in your own beer, wine (and sometimes liquor for mixed drinks) to enjoy with your meal. But there’s no hefty “corkage” fee to do so. Some places charge a nominal fee of $1-3, but not enough to impact the savings you’ll get from bringing your own. Given the excessive markup charges on alcohol in most restaurants, going BYO can mean big savings for budget travelers. Of course, you can’t just roll up at any establishment toting your own Cabernet. Only some restaurants (with a few exceptions, these will be places that don’t serve their own) allow BYOB, so if you don’t know, call ahead and ask. BYOB restaurants can vary widely in style and atmosphere, from quick take-out joints to date-worthy spots to places perfect for a casual meal with friends. Here are some of the best spots for BYOB dining in Chicago.
Schwa is for serious foodies, as getting a reservation here takes serious effort. With just 26 seats, only a select few can dine each night. If you are lucky enough to snag reservations, you’ll be treated to a dining experience unlike any other. From the jovial, unpretentious servers – who are actually the chefs – to the indie rock music playing in the background, Schwa is not what you might expect from a place that’s won such gastronomic critical acclaim. The 10-course set menu is $110 per person and changes seasonally to include whimsical preparations of often unusual foods, like jellyfish made into noodles for pad Thai, or Hendrick’s Gin used to make a cucumber-infused gelee.
Schwa Restaurant, 1466 N Ashland Ave, Chicago, IL 60622; Phone: (773) 252-1466
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have Smoque, a neighborhood joint that offers little ambiance but fantastic food. Place your order at the counter and then settle in for some finger-licking barbecue like ribs, pulled pork, cornbread, and mac ‘n cheese. You’d have a very hard time spending more than $15 per person here, which makes this a great place for those who want good food with no fuss. Bring a 6-pack of your favorite beers and enjoy it!
Smoque BBQ, 3800 N Pulaski Rd, Chicago, IL 60641; Phone: (773) 545-7427
BYOB isn’t just for dinner. Bring your own champagne for mimosas and save at M. Henry, which offers “globally inspired New American cooking” for weekend brunch. Try the spicy black bean cakes with eggs; the peasant quiche filled with asparagus, sautéed leeks, shallots, applewood bacon, gruyere, and Lorraine swiss; or the thick brioche french toast layered with warm bananas, rum, and golden raisins, all for around $9 each.
m.henry, 5707 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60660; Phone: (773) 561-1600
Another great casual date-night spot, Tango Sur is as sultry as the Argentine dance it was named for. Dine by candlelight in this always-busy steakhouse and enjoy tender, juicy beef in cuts big enough to share (like the “filet” which comes with two huge filets for about $30). Don’t skip the empanadas, and be sure to come early as they don’t take reservations. As an added bonus, the wine shop across the street (Que Syrah) has an extensive selection of quality Malbecs available for under $15.
Tango Sur, 3763 N Southport Ave, Chicago, IL 60613; Phone: (773) 477-5466
With low-lighting, warm yellow walls covered with antique mirrors, superior service that is available but not intrusive, and a simple but intriguing menu, HB shines as a low-key date spot or the perfect place to bring the family. Try items appetizers like the artichoke and Edam cheese fritters or the almond-stuffed dates for $9 each, or try the signature Amsterdam-style mussels, a heaping bowl of fresh mussels in a broth of beer, anise, dried basil, and garlic for $19. Other entrees change seasonally and include meat, fish, and veggie dishes that range from $16-$25, making this a very affordable night out.
BYOB restaurants have, in the past, had a reputation as more casual places – places that allowed customers to bring their own alcohol because they didn’t want to serve booze. And while many bare-bones operations are on the BYOB list, lately more and more upscale places have followed suit, preferring to focus on the food rather than the alcohol. Bonsoiree is one of those places,. Billing itself as “a revolution in BYOB” this intimate space (there are only about two dozen tables) offers creative dishes served in multi-course set menus. Prices range depending on the menu; 4-5 courses are usually $50-$60 per person, and 7 or 8-course dinners hover around $85 each, and the Saturday night “Underground Dinner” menu is generally $95 per person. It’s not cheap, but the fresh fusion cuisine is worth the price, especially when you consider what you’ll save by bringing your own wine accompaniment. Not sure what to bring? Just call the restaurant and order their wine pairing service, which matches wines to each dish and has them delivered to the restaurant.