You'll find plenty of plaid shirts and skinny jeans-wearing folks ordering Tecate, PBR and Old Style at divey-chic joints around the hood like Big Star or Flat Iron or Handlebar. But there's also a growing number of spots dishing out cocktails usually reserved for pricer `hoods, not to mention stellar beer and dance nights without expensive covers.
The timeline: The earlier the better for any bar with a lot of buzz (Big Star, Violet Hour, The Whistler). 10 p.m. for most other spots. Post-1 a.m. for anything with a late night license.
The transport: God bless the Blue Line and the No.-9 Ashland or No. 70 Division bus for Bucktown/Wicker Park travel. And although the Blue Line cuts through Logan Square, the `hood tends to be a locals scene and you'll find most bar patrons walking home.
Word on the street: "Some bars, it's just a neighborhood feel where everyone knows each other, and at others it can be, dare I say, yuppie-ish." -- Sarah Jacobus, 21
With three of the most rambunctious nightlife mini-`hoods (Wrigleyville, Boystown and DePaul) within their borders, Lakeview and Lincoln Park have long had a reputation for heavy drinking from a younger crowd at spots such as John Barleycorn and Kincade's.
The timeline: Look for Boystown bars to start drawing crowds around 9 p.m. on weekends. Wrigleyville crowds build immediately before and after games. In Lincoln Park? It's your typical 11 p.m.-2 a.m. crowd.
The transport: Between the Red Line and Brown Line cutting through both neighborhoods and the No. 22-Clark and No. 8-Halsted busses cutting through Wrigleyville and Boystown, public transit is the way to go, though cabs are plentiful.
Word on the street: "It's unpredictable, always awesome and you never know what you're gonna get." -- Frank Dziewior, 22
River North/Gold Coast
No neighborhoods pack more club action into their borders than these notorious downtown party zones. Love them or hate them, they make -- and attract -- money. Sit back and watch the magic switch as restaurants like Hubbard Inn and Paris Club transition to packed nightspots after 9 p.m. Bottle service central. Spots to blow a paycheck on cover, taxis and cocktails -- or avoid entirely.
The timeline: If you're spending the money to go out, you might as well go all out. Crowds stick around until closing time. And don't think you can get away with showing up at midnight -- weekend lines can be hard to avoid on Hubbard.
The transport: Sure you can take the Red Line, but why bother when there are five cabs aiming right for you?
Word on the street: "The best thing about the area is your ability to go out early for a great dinner...then stick around to enjoy the night life."--Eric Rose, general manager of Hub 51