The meat and potatoes of any train crawl is, of course, the bars themselves. When planning a train crawl, it’s important to balance many factors into your group’s adventure: What kind of bars would my group enjoy? How crowded should the bars be? Do they serve food, or are we sticking to spirits? Can we pay with credit cards, or do we need to make an ATM run first? By the time we get to the bar, will we have enough time to settle in before the next train comes or are we just popping in for a pint?
Relax. That’s why you’re here. And we can help.
We’ve dramatically overhauled our Ultimate Train Crawl Map with literally hundreds of bars and venues throughout the Chicago region within walking distance to a weekend Metra route. Each venue includes links to their respective websites (if applicable), Google ratings, approximate walking distance to the nearest Metra station, and additional details about each place. This being The Yard Social Club, we’ve also included connecting transit information for each Metra station served by the CTA or Pace. (Between that and the proliferation of Lyft and Uber, there’s no excuse for any train crawler to risk a DUI.)
Scroll down to the bottom if you want to dive right into the map, but first, some information about how we created our Ultimate Train Crawl Map.
We’re not perfect and the bar scene in the suburbs can be quite dynamic, so if we missed something, if you think we should change something, or if you just want to chat about whatever, drop us a line. We’ve tried our hardest to make sure everything is on the up-and-up, but mistakes can happen. Use the map at your own risk.
The information on this map was derived from publicly-available digital databases. Care was taken in the creation of this map. The Yard Social Club cannot accept any responsibility for errors, omissions, or positional accuracy. This map should not be used for navigation or legal purposes. It is intended for general reference use only. There are no warranties, expressed or implied, including the warranty of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose, accompanying this product. However, notification of any errors will be appreciated.
Since we had to draw the line somewhere, here’s the basic criteria we used in creating the Ultimate Train Crawl Map and our Weekend Guides:
- All venues should be within comfortable walking distance (ten minutes or less) from a Metra station that has weekend service. Exceptional or unusual venues may be located slightly further away, but still within a reasonable walking distance.
- All venues should sell alcohol.
- Venues must be reasonably expected to welcome patrons who are not interested in eating a full meal. For instance, while there are plenty of restaurants that sell alcohol, places without a defined bar area are generally not included.
- National chain restaurants or bars are generally not included.
- Venues that do not open before 5pm on weekends are generally not included.
Since everyone walks at different paces, our walking distance calculations are grouped together with the following classifications. Don’t forget to add extra time returning to the station for your next train if the train boards on the opposite side of the tracks from the bar in case another train blocks the crossing. Do not cross railroad tracks when crossing lights are flashing, the bell is ringing, and/or the gate is down.
- In Station: Bar is located inside the station structure, at or near platform level. Little, if any, extra time is needed to board the next train on your schedule since you’re already at the station.
- 2 minutes: The bar is located within a block of the train station, usually within view of the platform. In a pinch, you probably could make a run for your next train as it pulls in provided you’re on the correct side of the platform.
- 5 minutes: The bar is a block or two away from the station and a little extra planning will be required to make sure your group stays on schedule.
- 10 minutes: The bar is still within walking distance, but getting to and from the bar could put a good size dent in your schedule if you’re only spending an hour in that town. Keep an eye on your Ventra app to check real-time Metra operating schedules to make sure you have enough time to make it back to the station before the next train comes.
Maybe the second-most-important part of planning your crawl (other than making sure the schedule works) is nailing the proper vibe for your event. Maybe your group wants to do a classy wine crawl through the North Shore. Maybe your beer snob friends want to make a crawl out of some suburban microbreweries. Maybe you’re slumming it through the dive bars. While there’s nothing wrong with any of those themes (we’re quite partial to dive bars, for the record), picking the right bars is crucial to making sure your crawl attendees are comfortable and having fun at each stop.
Classifying hundreds of very different bars is more art than science, so your mileage may vary, but here’s our basic standards for the bars we reviewed. Note that some of these classifications have subsections, and each category can include a variety of bars.
- Pub: Eat, drink, and be merry. Most suburban bars fit into this category, where patrons feel comfortable ordering a full meal, a few snacks, or just drinks. Generally pretty laid-back, although there’s wide variety of places that fit into the Pub category ranging from higher-end gastropubs to unpretentious sports bars. A good default option to include on any crawl. Pubs are shown on the Map as a pint glass.
- Irish Pub: A special subset of Pubs reflecting the region’s rich Irish heritage, Irish Pubs are venues known for their Emerald Isle flair. They’re usually slightly more upscale than a run-of-the-mill Pub since they often have a higher quality beer selection (although these days just about every non-dive bar has a decent craft beer list). Irish Pubs use the same pint-glass icons as Pubs, but Irish Pubs are colored shamrock green.
- Tavern: Taverns are thought of as drinking establishments first and eating establishments second — most taverns don’t have a robust food menu, if they serve food at all. When you walk into a tavern, you’ll probably be interrupting a conversation the bartender is having with a regular nursing a Bud Light, but Taverns are generally welcoming places as long as you’re not doing something stupid. Keep an eye out for pool tables, dart boards, and jukeboxes. Look for the beer mug icon on the map.
- Dive Bar: “Hey look, mister. We serve hard drinks in here for men who want to get drunk fast, and we don’t need any characters around to give the joint ‘atmosphere’.” (We love Dive Bars and bars identified as such should wear the designation with pride. Just be ready to pay with cash only, don’t expect anything more exotic than Heineken on the beer list, and maybe avoid them if you have a peanut allergy.) Dive Bars are, appropriately, indicated with a diver on the map.
- Lounge: More upscale than a Pub, Lounges are better suited for small group conversations over shared plates and a bottle of wine than a raucous discussion about when, if ever, the White Sox will be good again (AL pennant winners in 2021, you read it here first!).
Wine bars fell into our Lounge category,as did a few more unusual upscale offerings (a tequileria off the UP-W, anyone?), in case you want to class up your next train crawl. Some of these venues may have dress codes, so do your homework. Look for the martini glass on the map.
- Winery: The proliferation of wineries, wine bars, and other vino-centric venues have prompted us to spin off wineries into their own special category. Go on and plan your own upstate spin on the Wine Trails of southern Illinois.
- Restaurant: Some restaurants do have some decent bars, but generally these are places that people go to eat that also happen to have a bar. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a bad choice for your crawl, but make sure to manage your expectations a bit and don’t go in rolling thirty deep expecting to do shots with the bartender. That said, restaurants are great places to start your crawl: don’t drink on an empty stomach. Look for the knife-and-fork icon on the map.
- Brewery: America’s beer scene is exploding with smaller breweries ranging from small-batch special brews to mid-tier breweries like Lagunitas and Revolution, and there are dozens of breweries and taprooms to check out throughout the region. (We included taprooms in our Brewery category, even if the beer is brewed offsite.) Some breweries have full kitchens; others work on a bring-your-own-food arrangement or have food trucks conveniently parked outside. Illinois has weird liquor laws that may restrict how much alcohol you can consume on-site at a brewery or taproom, so the best bang for your beer buck might be a flight. Others fall under different portions of the law and also have full bars. (And Evanston and Riverside have distilleries steps away from their respective stations, if you’re really here to party.) Look for the factory icon on the map.
- Slashie: Try it before you buy it! Some old liquor licenses didn’t specify between package liquor sales and on-site consumption, so there are still a few relics scattered around that offer the best of both worlds. From a scheduling standpoint, Slashies are perfect to schedule before a particularly long train ride, since your group can grab drinks to go and keep the party going on the train. Liquor stores/bars (hence “slashies”) are shown as shopping bags on the map. (Pro tip: some Taverns and Pubs also offer to-go beverages; ask your bartender.)
Just because it isn’t a bar doesn’t mean it wouldn’t make a great stop on a train crawl if you’re willing to get a little creative with the schedule.
- Bowling Alleys: As suburban as the strip mall and the cul-de-sac, bowling alleys are a fun addition to your crawl (unless you’re one of those super-competitive people, in which case you might just piss off your friends instead) and usually have a pretty solid little Tavern-esque bar on site. Look for the bowling ball on the map.
- Casinos: Want to be a high-roller, win big at blackjack, and buy shots all night? Or, more likely, do you want to blow your drinking cash and use a credit card for PBRs for the rest of the crawl? Take Metra to one of the casinos in Elgin, Aurora, or Joliet. Look for the dice on the map, and good luck!
- Racetrack: Maybe you prefer your gambling with a mint julep or a huge flowery hat on the side. Play the ponies up at Arlington Park (while we still can) off the UP-NW line.
- Performance Venues: Places like Ravinia Festival and RiverEdge Park in Aurora are great places to see headlining bands play under the stars, but there’s no reason you can’t do a little railgating pre-gaming on the train there. (And you won’t have to worry about traffic after the show!) UP-N trains make special stops at Ravinia Park for events.
- Stadiums: Take Metra to a ball game! Work an independent-league baseball game into your summer crawl along the MD-W (Schaumburg) or RI (Joliet) lines. Or head to the gridiron to see some Big Ten Northwestern football (Evanston/Central St. UP-N) or watch the pros at Soldier Field (18th Street ME). And, of course, check out your 2021 American League Champion Chicago White Sox at whatever they’re calling the stadium these days near the “Lou” Jones/35th RI station.
We haven’t been to every bar in the region (yet!), but we definitely have some favorites. Our recommendations are in the Diamond List, which transcends bar type and confirms that we’ve had a great time at that venue on a previous Yard Social train crawl. Diamond List bars are shown in purple on the Ultimate Train Crawl Map, and denoted with a diamond on our Weekend Guides. Bars can’t pay to be on the Diamond List, so it’s exclusively our opinion. (Of course, just because a bar isn’t on the Diamond List doesn’t mean we didn’t/don’t/won’t like it.) Click on a Diamond List bar on the map for a quick review by The Yard Social Club.