8608 N Lombard St., 477-5489, centralhotelstjohns.com. 2-10 pm Monday-Thursday, 2 pm-2:30 am Friday, 10 am-2:30 am Saturday, 10 am-10 pm Sunday.
Central Hotel splits the difference between an old dive and the Teardrop North. There's still an ugly drop ceiling, a wall of lottery machines, an old piano and an aging house phone rung by someone who wants the bartender to tell his buddies he's running late. But when not lying to callers about customers' whereabouts (bribe required), the city's least pretentious mixologist is chopping fresh hunks from a big block of ice and mixing cocktails using clover and lavender bitters she made herself. An excellent Bachelor ($9)—a mix of bourbon, alcohol and more alcohol—would cost at least $12 anywhere south of here, and the house tap list shows a particular affinity for Old Town's underrated Pints. What would help? Finishing the hotel upstairs. Because after two of these cocktails, you ain't driving anywhere. MARTIN CIZMAR.
Happy Hour: 4-7 pm Monday-Friday, all day Sunday. $1 off house cocktails, 50 cents off drafts.
Entertainment: Pool, pingpong, Friday-Saturday poker games.