If you’re a music lover, the Windy City has plenty to offer. Chicago has been home to many influential music icons, including blues legends Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, jazz superstar Louis Armstrong, and contemporary artists such as Andrew Bird and Kanye West. But even some of the lesser-known performers working in Chicago still put on quite a show. Nothing quite captures the thrill and energy of live music. Even if you record the sounds, there’s no recording the give and take between the audience and the performers on stage. Of course, not every venue is equal, and bad sound or terrible layouts can dampen the mood. If you want to see the very best live music that Chicagoland has to offer, catch a show at one of these 15 amazing venues.
1. The Green Mill
Once the hangout of notorious gangsters, this iconic jazz club is still an uptown favorite for signature cocktails and free-flowing jazz. Come on Sundays to enjoy the longest-running Poetry Slam in the country, where you can sign up for the open mic or hear talented poets backed by a live band. Some of the quieter evenings become a phone-free zone, so be prepared to sit back and take in the music with your favorite company.
2. The Empty Bottle
The indie scene is thriving at this cozy Chicago venue. Located in the Ukrainian Village in Chicago’s west side, this bar offers cheap drinks to enjoy alongside live music seven nights a week. You can see anything from electronic to honky-tonk, but don’t be surprised if there’s a lively crowd to bump elbows with.
This spacious club has two performance halls with plenty of seating and room to dance. In addition to jazz, classical, and electronic music, Constellation also hosts dance performances. If you’re craving fluid, improvised tunes, Constellation can scratch your itch while you get a taste of Chicago’s thriving, avant-garde art performance scene.
This two-floor venue has been on the Chicago scene for over twenty years in a century-old building that has housed a brothel, a wire room for placing bets, and a bathhouse. Subterranean books a wide variety of acts, including alternative, hip-hop, rap, punk, and hardcore music. On nights without bands, you can still get a good dose of music from DJs and one of the best hip-hop open mics in the city.
5. Elastic Arts
Elastic Arts is a non-profit organization that supports local musicians, artists, and performers by hosting a wide array of events. The eclectic showcases include improvised dance and music, art openings, and multimedia performances. Many shows are free, and all ages are welcome as performers expand artistic boundaries.
7. Kingston Mines
This celebrated blues club has been booking all-star blues acts since 1968, with gritty blues bands performing on two stages every night of the week. From soulful crooning to rhythmic, foot-stomping jam sessions, Kingston Mines is the place to beat for incredible live blues shows in Chicago.
8. The Riviera
Originally built as a movie theater, the Riviera concert hall has drawn music acts from across the world since 1986. The spacious venue has a 1,400 person capacity, and concert-goers have enjoyed performances by their favorite local and international bands with full, in-seat service from the bar.
Dedicated to showcasing local talent as much as big-name alt-rock and indie bands from around the world, Metro’s curated live performances promise big entertainment even if you’ve never heard of the headliner. The venue has a large capacity, but there are no seats to trip over and the balcony can give you a bird’s eye view if you’re early enough to catch a spot.
Located downstairs from Metro, this bumping club is the place to go if you’re itching to move to the world’s best dance tunes. Smartbar hosts cutting edge DJs from across the world that spin until 4 am on the weekends, making it a perfect after-party to a busy evening.
11. Schubas Tavern
This former Schlitz brewery now operates as a bar and restaurant, and they just so happen to host some of the best small venue concerts in the city. From folk to funk and country to rock, you can see indie bands from just about any genre, every night of the week.
This no-frills brewpub hosts some of the loudest and most spectacular punk rock shows in the city. They also have an in-house record store to bring home new favorites on vinyl and the occasional comedy show for a total change of pace. If the weather’s right, you can check out the roof deck for a quieter evening at one of the best rooftops bars in Chicago.
13. Thalia Hall
This former opera hall is modeled after the Prague opera house, and it’s a downright gorgeous place where you can catch big-name acts, year-round. Before the show, relax in the downstairs bar or enjoy dinner at a Michelin star restaurant without leaving the building.
This century-old, balloon frame house may not look like much, but its walls are rich with history. Standing in the middle of the North Branch Industrial Corridor, it has gone from a Prohibition-era speakeasy to an eclectic venue that hosts music, plays, and dance parties. Plenty of nationally recognized artists have spent an evening performing at the Hideout on their path to success.
15. Cobra Lounge
Known for its dynamic sound, Cobra Lounge has fostered regional talent for over a decade, while still drawing the occasional big-name act. In addition to being an incredible and intimate venue to enjoy straightforward rock and roll, their upscale menu has some of the best food you’ll ever eat at a concert.
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