Chicago Smokes—Four Places to Legally Light Up

In 2008, Chicago imposed a smoking ban. On a recent visit, Cigar Aficionado found that there are more and more places providing outdoor areas that are allowing cigar smoking. They're finding it's good for business, but given Chicago's moody weather, enjoying a cigar can still be a seasonal adventure. Our intrepid reporter made the sacrifice and found four.

The Redhead Piano Bar

Every time I go to Chicago, I fall in love. Sometimes it's with a woman, at least for the duration of my visit. Sometimes—well, every time—it's with a restaurant. This time I fell in love with a Redhead. You could, too.

The 50-year-old Redhead Piano Bar is just what it sounds like. There's a piano in the front (tip jar included) and some seats around it. There's a large bar about the length of the front part of the establishment. Most significantly, for our purposes, the Redhead offers cigar smokers a place to light up. Now, this is not a cigar bar in the sense that you're used to. You cannot actually smoke IN the bar, but the Redhead has a patio area outside the backdoor that is covered, heated and being upgraded in the very near future.

"We were hurt by the smoking ban," explains Redhead manager Art Bryan. "Sales plummeted in 2008 when the ban went into effect. We're now back to about 40 percent in our cigar business and drinks that are tightly connected to cigars." Like Scotch.

The Redhead has a list of single malts that goes from Aberlour to Talisker. The bar offers additional premium spirits, including an ample selection of bourbons and other whiskies. The Cognac offerings are impressive. Cigars are sold here, ranging from a $15 Alec Bradley American Classic Blend to a $29 Ashton VSG Pegasus.



The way it works is that you go to the bar, order your drink and go outside and enjoy your cigar. Refill? Go back in, order, come back out. The law says that you have to be 15 feet away from the door to be able to smoke. So, make sure you have someone to guard your stogie when you get that second drink.

Bryan says that the plans are to improve the patio area that now has about 12 plastic chairs for smokers. That setup has been there since the ban. In 2009, the Redhead added "electric radiating heat," vital even on some Chicago spring evenings. (The Redhead is the only place I found that has a heated smoking area.)

The plan is to make the space twice the size and to install a raised wood floor and low walls, not fully enclosing the area, thereby complying with the law that prohibits smoking indoors.

"I want to get people back to enjoying the special cigar and drink moment," Bryan says.

The Redhead Piano Bar
16 W. Ontario St (between State and Dearborn)
Saturday: 7 p.m. - 5 a.m.
Sunday to Friday: 7 p.m. - 4 a.m.

Sullivan's Steakhouse

The Redhead is on Ontario Street, basically a nightlife destination with numerous restaurants nearby. One of them is Sullivan's Steakhouse, about four blocks south of the piano bar. Sullivan's is a chain restaurant owned by the Del Frisco Restaurant Group. The smoking area here is the unheated patio on Hubbard Street. There aren't many tables and the sidewalk seating is a bit cramped, but you can have dinner and a cigar without having to move.

Also, there is full service in this area. You don't have to fetch your own drinks. I thoroughly enjoyed my Coronado by La Flor Dominicana and a Gosling's rum on a warm evening in May. A small, but noticed plus was the double-bedded cigar ashtray on the table. Sure, it was plastic (they do tend to walk away), but a nice and useful touch.

Sullivan's sells cigars, from the $13 Fuente Short Story to the $26 Dominican Montecristo No. 2.

Sullivan's Steakhouse
415 N Dearborn St
Monday to Saturday: 5 p.m. - 11 p.m.
Sunday: 4:30 p.m. - 10 p.m.

Clark Street Ale House

A little farther west, on Clark Street, where there are bars aplenty, you'll find the Clark Street Ale House. Again, belly up and order, then walk out the backdoor to the kind of patio I used to party on when I lived in Chicago. Nothing fancy here, no cigars for sale, but a great beer selection. There are about 40 seats around outdoor metal tables. No heaters here. Planters serve as ashtrays and the décor "highlight" is the immense air-conditioning compressor jutting out from the second-floor deck. If there were a second-floor deck.

The thing about the Clark Street Ale House, though, is that it's the kind of bar you wind up in at the end of a long, warm night in Chicago and sit there with your friends, maybe all a little wobbly from imbibing, and talk about your "glory days." We all have that kind of bar in our past. And I swear, that cute blonde was definitely smiling at me.

Clark Street Ale House
742 N. Clark Street
Monday to Friday: 4 p.m. - 4 a.m.
Saturday: 11 a.m. - 5 a.m.
Sunday: 11 a.m. - 4 a.m.

South Loop Club

The menu describes the South Loop Club as "an intown bar and grill with neighborhood flair." The flair must have been off on the Saturday afternoon I visited. To smoke, you have to sit on the small, unheated patio and pretty much in the middle among the few tables on the sidewalk. The SLC, as it's known, has a door on either end of the patio.

You can get full table service, however, and our charming server was very helpful in explaining the cigar-smoking rules, and then telling us, "Order the burger rare if you want it medium-rare because Pedro tends to overcook." Oh, that Pedro. Not sure we needed that insider info, but, still, the burger is quite good and the menu brags that it is eight ounces of Certified Angus Beef (maybe) for just $7 with fries.

The SLC is a bit of a dive bar, in a neighborhood that is as downtown Chicago as it gets, just a block from blues legend Buddy Guy's Legends club and the red line's elevated tracks, but with gentrification creeping in. It's the kind of neighborhood that my friends who grew up in the city's northern suburbs, when they were in high school, wouldn't tell their parents they were going. They still might not.

The SLC has more than a dozen TVs and on this day one could watch the Cubs, the White Sox and the Blackhawks, but that's inside and no smoking there. The SLC sells a few cigars, best among them probably the Fuente 8-5-8 for $8. Of course, there are plenty of great cigar shops in Chicago, so you can choose what you're going to puff.

South Loop Club
701 S State St (between Balbo Ave & Polk St)
Monday to Friday and Sunday: 11 a.m. - 4 a.m.
Saturday: 11 a.m. - 5 a.m.

"The SLC is in a neighborhood that sometimes one would question.However,one will find really nice people there and it is friendly and unassuming. They will upgrade the seating for smoking in due time." —February 8, 2014 13:15 PM
"Save a few bucks on your cigars in Chicago. Half a block down (and across the street) from Sullivan's is Hubbard State Cigars. Great selection and prices." —June 18, 2013 16:25 PM
"Hoffman Estates has a place....great Filet with creamed spinach,...don't want to give the name away and have excellent patio closed...But bring the sticks...They also have a Cigar Night...." —June 18, 2013 01:47 AM
"Chicago is a great place to visit with great food, culture, entertainment and places to smoke. See you soon. ~C. Dub" —June 15, 2013 14:48 PM
"Yes sir, Let Go Hawks!!!" —June 13, 2013 21:10 PM
"Go Hawks!!!! " —June 13, 2013 17:37 PM