When you hear “Chicago”, the thought of Scotland probably doesn’t jump immediately to mind. Ireland, perhaps, and most definitely Poland.
But there’s a proud, long-standing Scottish community in Chicago, and there’s definitely ways to celebrate your heritage or love of all things Scottish in the Windy City.
Scottish immigrants have made the city their own over the years; they were particularly well-represented within the meatpacking industry that defined Chicago in the early part of the 20th century. Notable Scottish-Americans in Chicago include Robert Fergus, influential to the city’s printing industry; and Allan Pinkerton, who was the first police detective in Chicago. The Pinkerton National Detective Agency, which was founded in Chicago in 1850, was the forerunner for organizations like the FBI and CIA.
Scottish names are scattered across the local map as well – towns with names like Inverness, Midlothian, Bannockburn, and West Dundee. In fact, at least 195 communities, neighbourhoods, districts and suburban estates in greater Chicago can trace their names to either places in Scotland, or are named for famous Scots. You can even pay homage to one of Scotland’s favorite sons, the national poet Robert Burns, at his statue in Garfield Park, on the west side of the city.
Every summer, the Illinois St. Andrew Society – also known as the Chicago Scots – hosts the Scottish Festival and Highland Games, as well as the St. Andrew’s Day Gala and Feast of the Haggis, the Kilted Classic Golf Tournament, and Burns Night0. The Chicago Scots are the oldest nonprofit in Illinois, founded in 1845. The ISAS welcomes anyone “who is Scottish by birth, heritage, or simply inclination”; membership is free, although there are also paid membership levels.
While there are various mostly-British restaurants in Chicago that may offer a few Scottish dishes, there are two restaurants that are very Scottish indeed.
The first is Balmoral Restaurant, which is not in Chicago proper, but rather, the far western suburbs, located at 40W099 Illinois Route 64, in Campton Hills. Although it’s only been open a few years, it repeatedly ranks high in local “Best of…” readers’ polls. While their menu is limited, you simply cannot go wrong dining here, with selections ranging from their Highlander’s Cock-a-Leekie Soup, to Scottish salmon, to desserts like the Raspberry Cream Cranachan. Open for dinner nightly; 2-10pm on Sundays.
The other is the cozy and charming Duke of Perth pub, located at 2913 N. Clark Street, just south of W. Oakdale Ave. (Lincoln Park/Lakeview). They’re open nightly in the evenings; they open at noon on Saturday/Sundays. Their speciality is their all-you-can-eat fish fry (with chips, of course), but you can also be adventurous with menu items like their haggis burger. This is also an outstanding place to have a wee dram or two of whisky – they have an excellent selection (not to mention some solid local regional craft brews). Don’t take my word alone for it – Whisky Magazine certified them as a “Great Whisky Bar of the World” in 2006. In the winter, settle in near their fireplace and warm yourself inside and out.
The Duke of Perth is not the only place you can get your whisky (or whiskey) on, however. A few other places to enjoy a dram:
- Delilah’s, 2771 N. Lincoln Ave., just south of Diversey (Lincoln Park/Lakeview). This much-beloved dive bar has more than 800 varieties of whiskey from around the world, as well as a few of their own.
- Lady Gregory’s, 5260 N. Clark St. at W. Berwyn (Andersonville). This popular Irish pub has a solid menu, with over 300 whiskeys and a variety of draft and bottle beers; and it feels more like a literary supper club, unlike a lot of stereotypical Irish pubs. (On a side note, Andersonville was recently ranked # 2 on Lonely Planet’s “49 Coolest Neighborhoods in the World” list. This lively LGBTQ+ community on Chicago’s far north side is a great place to explore!)
- Twisted Spoke, 501 N. Ogden Ave. at W. Grand Ave. (West Loop). Whether you call them a roadhouse or a biker’s bar, the Twisted Spoke has a bar loaded with some 600 whiskeys, as well as almost two dozen draft beers, many from the Midwest, plus a wide variety of bottled beers and ciders. Unfortunately, their menu has been trimmed down considerably during the pandemic, but you can’t go wrong with their burgers (a.k.a. “tallboys”).
- Longman & Eagle, 2657 N. Kedzie Ave. (Logan Square). While also known for their delicious farm-to-table fare, L&E boasts more than 400 varieties – ranging from ones you can sample for just $3/shot, up to rare and well-aged classics.
- There are two Chicago bars which are “partner bars” for the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (out of 14 in the U.S.). Sadly, both of them are temporarily closed due to the pandemic. You can still shop at Fountainhead‘s (1966 W. Montrose, Lincoln Square/Ravenswood) Market. The other, Drumbar, located atop what is now the Gale Hotel (201 E. Delaware Place, Streeterville), is indefinitely closed.
And finally, if you really want to wear your Scottish-Chicago pride on your sleeve (or elsewhere), visit the Scotland Shop’s Illinois Tartan page. This attractive tartan, in the colors of the Chicago flag, was created for the Illinois St. Andrews Society, and adopted as the official tartan of the State of Illinois. The Scottish Shop also occasionally visits Chicago for pop-up events, such as the Scottish Festival and Highland Games.