Music venues | 2012 Student Guide
Arenas and outdoor venues are always all ages, and many other clubs host shows for those 21 and younger. Call ahead, see Time Out Chicago’s weekly magazine or go to timeoutchicago.com/music for up-to-date Music listings and events.
* Recommended or notable
Allstate Arena 6920 Mannheim Rd, Rosemont (847-635-6601, allstatearena.com). Located in the public transportation–accessible suburb of Rosemont, Allstate will always be known to old-school Chicagoans as the Rosemont Horizon. As one of the older venues in the area, this is where the big-name acts have often come (we fondly recall seeing Michael Jackson on the Bad tour here in the ’80s), and it still attracts plenty of star power, including everyone from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to One Direction. The basketball arena also plays host to DePaul hoops. If a pop group is new to puberty or a seasoned (and still relevant) American Idol alumnus, they’re probably found here.
Soldier Field 1410 S Museum Campus Dr (312-235-7000, box office 800-745-3000, soldierfield.net). Home to the Chicago Bears, the city’s football stadium is where groups like the Rolling Stones and U2 play when the weather’s warm and they’d rather not be cooped up in the United Center. The arena also hosted the inaugural Spring Awakening Music Festival, featuring lords of dubstep and EDM like Skrillex and Afrojack. Time and trends will tell if it returns. There are very few bad seats in the house, and despite the often difficult parking situation (we recommend taking the El to one of the two connecting buses, and there is also a shuttle service), the cool lakefront breezes make concertgoing here a pleasant experience.
Toyota Park 7000 S Harlem Ave, Bridgeview (708-594-7700, toyotapark.com). Home to Chicago Fire soccer, this stadium on the Far South Side has
hosted everyone from Evanescence to Lynyrd Skynyrd.
UIC Pavilion 525 S Racine Ave (312-413-5740, uicpavilion.com). The lucky kids who go to the University of Illinois at Chicago have this massive concert hall (well, basketball arena) in their backyard. Concerts are few and far between these days, but the bookings are big. Recently, Bon Iver, Death Cab for Cutie and Arcade Fire have passed through.
Rock, pop & hip-hop
Abbey Pub 3420 W Grace St (773-478-4408, abbeypub.com). There are two sides—literally—to this Northwest Side spot. On one is a small Irish pub, the Green Room, that hosts energetic folk and traditional performances most nights. (Spike TV viewers may recognize it from a recent Bar Rescue makeover). On the other is a larger venue that’s begun to pick up the jam-band slack from the recently shuddered Kinetic Playground. Indie-rock bands also stop by regularly, though the star power has waned in recent years. It’s a fair trek to get out there by public transportation.
The Ace Bar 21+ 1505 W Fullerton Ave (312-970-1505, theacebarchicago.com). Behind the charming marquee lies the ideal location to check out local acts while noshing on ostrich burgers.
Aragon 1106 W Lawrence Ave (773-561-9500, aragon.com). This beautiful, ornate and capacious space opened as a ballroom in 1926. These days, though, it serves as one of the biggest music venues within the city limits. The 4,500-capacity room hosts acts such as the National, Tenacious D and deadmau5, as well as Spanish-language gigs. Fair warning: The noise bounces around that high, pretty, star-flecked ceiling until it’s a fat wad of mud in your ears.
Beat Kitchen 2100 W Belmont Ave (773-281-4444, beatkitchen.com). This tidy, welcoming little corner bar in the north of the city has hosted innumerable debut shows, many of them of the punk, garage and power-pop varieties.
Bottom Lounge 1375 W Lake St (312-666-6775, bottomlounge.com). Good things do come from CTA construction: Forced from its former Belmont plot, the Bottom Lounge was reborn in the West Loop, and it’s swank. So impressively large is this live music venue that lounge seems totally inappropriate as a part of the name. The bar feels like a rocker hangout that thrives regardless of what is happening in the live room, which (with its own absinthe-serving bar) is well proportioned. Recent acts have ranged from Battles to the Rocket Summer. Kitschy bonus: Upstairs sits the tiki-themed Volcano Room.
* The Burlington 21+ 3425 W Fullerton Ave (773-384-3243, theburlingtonbar.com). This Wisconsin-themed bar recently launched a live room that’s quickly become home to some of the city’s strongest indie-rock acts. The music doesn’t stop there—a tight network of scenesters keeps the decks spinning in the main bar.
Chicago Theatre 175 N State St (312-462-6300, thechicagotheatre.com). The Loop’s 5,000-seat Chicago Theatre was the opulent French baroque-style flagship of the Balaban and Katz movie-palace chain when it opened in 1921. It’s still a beautiful venue (you’ve probably seen the famous illuminated “Chicago” marquee even if you’re from out of town) that’s surprisingly cozy for its large size. It has also hosted some phenomenal shows: We’ve caught everyone from Eddie
Vedder to Coco O’Brien here, and we’ve never been disappointed.
City Winery Chicago 1200 W Randolph St (312-773-9463, citywinery.com/chicago). Michael Dorf, founder of Brooklyn’s famed Knitting Factory, has focused his efforts on a new venture: wining, dining and serenading the Lucille Bluths of Chicago. An offshoot of the successful New York flagship, the restaurant offers wine pairings to match its calendar of seasoned talent by Colleen Miller, erstwhile Old Town School of Folk Music booker.
Cobra Lounge 21+ 235 N Ashland Ave (312-226-6300, cobralounge.com). The West Loop joint polishes and packs all the clichés of the Sunset Strip—tight Ed Hardy tees, tramp stamps, leather, snakes, neck ink—into two cozy, over-designed rooms. Accordingly, the bookings bring in skuzzy rock and metal.
Cole’s 21+ 2338 N Milwaukee Ave (773-276-5802, coleschicago.blogspot.com). A hiddenish gem in Logan Square, this bar lies around the corner from the Whistler. If you can’t squeeze your butt into that tiny cocktail haven, head over here for reasonably priced drinks and an eclectic roster of bands and DJs.
Congress Theater 2135 N Milwaukee Ave (773-276-1235, congresschicago.com). This sizable, slightly oddball venue hosts a diverse range of shows, featuring everyone from old favorites Morrissey and Weezer to nationally known Latino groups and even hip-hop acts like Wu-Tang Clan. Lately it has pitted itself as the hotbed for all things EDM, showcasing Bassnectar, Skrillex and deadmau5.
Crown Tap Room 2821 N Milwaukee Ave (773-252-9741, facebook.com/crowntap). This cozy Logan Square joint books a variety of underground rock and DIY house show fare in addition to the occasional comedy act.
Double Door 21+ 1572 N Milwaukee Ave (773-489-3160, doubledoor.com). Located in the heart of the nightlife action in Wicker Park, the Double Door is essentially the little brother to the Metro (see page 86), which books its acts. Many older local bands play here, leaning toward the tattooed set, alongside turns from touring groups. With a pool room downstairs and a small cocktail balcony, the space offers respite from a noisome opening act or a dark corner to smash faces.
Elbo Room 21+ 2871 N Lincoln Ave (773-549-5549, elboroomchicago.com). The music may be played in the basement, but don’t mistake the Elbo Room for a dive. With a rotating roster of local, usually undiscovered rock bands, and comfortable, eye-level sight lines, there might not be a better place to find out that your neighbor’s rock band doesn’t actually suck.
* Empty Bottle 21+ 1035 N Western Ave (773-276-3600, emptybottle.com). Don’t be fooled by its unassuming storefront: This is Chicago’s premier indie rock club, hosting cutting-edge bands from home and abroad. The annual Adventures in Modern Music festival, cosponsored by British magazine The Wire, is internationally renowned. If you need to get away from the noise for a while, the club has a comfortable front room, complete with a pool table and pinball. Most local shows are free with R.S.V.P., removing the financial risk from gambling on an unknown bill. A great venue.
* Hideout 21+ 1354 W Wabansia Ave (773-227-4433, hideoutchicago.com). Appropriately named (it’s tucked away in an industrial corridor), the Hideout serves as both an unpretentious, friendly local bar and a don’t-miss roots venue. Some of the city’s best alt-country acts got their start in the back room, which also plays host to rock groups, readings and other non-music events. Its annual block party in September is always a blast.
House of Blues 329 N Dearborn St (312-923-2000, houseofblues.com). Presenting some of the best national and international touring acts through one of the city’s finest sound systems, the Chicago edition of this chain is especially beautiful (check out the lush bathrooms). Purists scorn the place, but any venue that runs the gamut from B.B. King to Crystal Castles to Tech N9ne must have something going for it.
Joe’s Bar 21+ 940 W Weed St (312-337-3486, joesbar.com). This multipurpose venue (it also hosts recreational sporting events) is fond of booking everything from death metal to hip-hop, but its bread and butter—or, well, Texas toast and mayonnaise—is mainstream country.
* Lincoln Hall 2424 N Lincoln Ave (773-525-2508, lincolnhallchicago.com). The owners of Schubas upped their game with what has quickly become the crown jewel of local rock joints. It’s remarkably more contemporary than the ornate interior of Schubas, and like that club’s companion, Harmony Grill, Lincoln Hall also serves food. The music room is deceivingly shallow, approximating the size of Schubas’ band room turned sideways, but with a larger bar and an ample sound booth easily accommodating DJ rigs. The main attraction is the expansive balcony, which also includes a full bar and unobstructed view of the stage that wraps around the room. Fight for a spot to see the most buzzed about bands, like Kurt Vile, the Walkmen, Neon Indian, etc.
Logan Square Auditorium 2539 N Kedzie Blvd (773-252-6179, lsachicago.com). This all-ages, 750-capacity Logan Square spot resembles nothing so much as a high-school gym. The acoustics leave much to be desired, but some of the gigs (many of which are booked by the team at the Empty Bottle) really are can’t-miss, starring everyone from Lightning Bolt to the Black Lips.
Martyrs’ 21+ 3855 N Lincoln Ave (773-404-9494, martyrslive.com). This rather plain, midsized space has hosted big names such as Wilco, Los Lobos and Bernie Worrell in the past, but in recent years has exposed Chicago to a welter of jazz-fusion, world music and jam acts. On the first Thursday of the month, it stages the Big C Jamboree, Chicago’s only all-rockabilly showcase and open-mic night.
* Mayne Stage 1328 W Morse Ave (773-381-4551, maynestage.com). With a marquee that lights up Morse (a welcome improvement over the blue glow of police cameras), the swank Rogers Park house hosts comedy, world music and even, sometimes, hirsute dude-rock groups like Jaill and Earth.
* Metro 3730 N Clark St (773-549-4140, metrochicago.com). One of the city’s older and more famous clubs hosts a variety of national touring acts of all genres, from metal and mainstream indie to emo and electronica. If the boys in a band are wearing mascara, they’re likely drawing screaming teens to this two-level room. It’s also known for hosting larger showcases of local bands, especially budding one-hit wonders from the suburbs (think: Plain White T’s). Downstairs, you’ll often find excellent DJs at the Smart Bar.
* The Mid 306 N Halsted St (312-265-3990, themidchicago.com). One of the most versatile venues in town, the Mid combines traditional venue options with the bottle-popping club world. Two stories allow for dancing and drinking on weekends, but smaller nights see just the main floor used for everything from indie bands to up-and-coming DJ talent.
Morseland 21+ 1218 W Morse Ave (773-764-8900, morseland.com). Thanks to a recent makeover, this Rogers Park club has become the single best destination on the Far North Side for hip-hop, dub and jazz.
* Park West 322 W Armitage Ave (773-929-1322, parkwestchicago.com). This smarter-than-average, relatively intimate venue in Lincoln Park books a roster of interesting acts, anyone from the Polyphonic Spree to Childish Gambino. Note that it’s a 10- to 15-minute walk from the Armitage station; if you can’t be bothered taking it, the 11 or 22 buses will drop you far closer.
Reggie’s Rock Club 2109 S State St (312-949-0120, reggieslive.com). The go-to dive for volume and velocity, Reggie’s hosts 17-and-older metal, punk, garage, power-pop and hardcore shows. For the crusty underaged, the new South Side spot is a mecca. The neighboring Reggie’s Music Joint hosts 21+ shows, and the attached Record Breakers sells aisles of vinyl and used CDs.
Riviera Theatre 4746 N Racine Ave (773-275-6800, rivieratheatre.com). The Riv is generally considered to be the sister rock club to the Aragon, a couple of blocks away. With a capacity of around 2,500, the jazz-age theater isn’t quite as big as its neighbor, but the acoustics are much better. You might catch someone like MGMT or Edward Sharpe here. Those afraid of heights should probably give the steep balcony seating a miss.
Schubas 3159 N Southport Ave (773-525-2508, schubas.com). Much like the Empty Bottle, this small club books some of the best indie touring acts around, but leaning toward the acoustic singer-songwriter end of the spectrum, and month-long residencies from local groups with a national profile. You can hang out in the front bar area without paying cover for the shows; if you’re under 21, go straight to the back room, which stages plenty of all-ages and over-18 shows.
The Shrine 2109 S Wabash Ave (312-753-5700, theshrinechicago.com). Channeling the spirit of the late, great Fela Kuti, this South Loop night spot serves as an ideal place of worship for music heads and lovers of everything from house to hip-hop and soul to Afrobeat. It houses two DJ booths, a live stage overrun with boast-worthy talent and cozy seating for those who trade in dance-floor exploits for bottle-service boozing.
* SPACE 1245 Chicago Ave, Evanston (847-492-8860, evanstonspace.com). Sleek, modern and attached to a delicious wood-fire pizza joint, the club caters to an older, folkie crowd, booking everything from venerable delta bluesman David “Honeyboy” Edwards to Kaki King. There is the occasional hip indie gig, thanks to nearby WNUR, Northwestern’s student station. For those driving, street parking is free after 6pm.
Subterranean 2011 W North Ave (773-278-6600, subt.net). Set right in the heart of Wicker Park, this upstairs club rarely disappoints sound-wise, despite a rather creepy door staff. There’s a lofty balcony high above the stage if you don’t want to rub shoulders with the crowd, packed in to see typically heavy rock and hip-hop.
Township 2202 N California St (773-384-1865, mpshows.com). Up-and-coming art punks, garage rockers and knuckle-dragging amp crankers come to this friendly restaurant and bar to hone their chops.
Ultra Lounge 21+ 2169 N Milwaukee Ave (773-269-2900, ultraloungechicago.com). Finally, a public space to master your beer bong and Jenga skills against a backdrop of chandeliers and skull decor. This Logan Square establishment triples as a lounge, live music venue and dance club featuring simultaneous rock concerts and dance parties booked by MP Productions.
The Venue at Horseshoe Casino 21+ 777 Casino Center Dr, Hammond, IN (219-473-7000, horseshoehammond.com). Unassumingly tucked upstairs near the all-you-can-eat buffet in this Indiana gambling barge, this spacious vault might not look like much. Yet the state-of-the-art hall, designed by the folks behind Vegas’s Cirque du Soleil theaters, offers immaculate sound, whether you’re standing on the gym-like floor or lounging in the boxes. Bookings tend to be typically schmaltzy casino fare, with the occasional radio rock stars looking for quick poker access. A free shuttle from the Hyatt Regency Chicago downtown gets you there in 20 minutes.
The Whistler 21+ 2421 N Milwaukee Ave (773-227-3530, whistlerchicago.com). Delicious epicurean cocktails might be the Logan Square bar’s forte, but the tiny room hosts more and more delightful underground indie and experimental shows. The crowd can’t reach triple digits, so intimacy with both the musicians and your neighbor’s elbows is inevitable.
Jazz & experimental
Andy’s 11 E Hubbard St (312-642-6805, andysjazzclub.com). This mainstream jazz haven runs regular, low-key residencies with some of Chicago’s most respected scene elders, Ernest Dawkins and Mike Smith among them.
Elastic 2830 N Milwaukee Ave at Woodard St (773-772-3616, elasticarts.org). This not-for-profit, all-ages spot has quickly become one of the premier venues in the city for free jazz, electronic and other edge-riding music. The crowd ranges from hipsters to older jazz fans to the curious and uninitiated, but there’s no intimidation factor—it’s always friendly.
* Green Mill 21+ 4802 N Broadway (773-878-5552, greenmilljazz.com). Al Capone and other gangsters used to hang here in the 1920s, but these days it’s all about the music. Owner Dave Jemilo, who returned the club to its original luster in the 1980s, books smart bebop and free jazz with a discriminating ear. Local favorites Kimberly Gordon and Patricia Barber both maintain residencies throughout the year (Barber’s here every Monday, if she’s not on tour) while Tuesdays belong to the ferociously swinging Deep Blue Organ Trio. Come early, as it’s usually understandably busy.
* Hungry Brain 21+ 2319 W Belmont Ave (773-935-2118, umbrellamusic.org). Sunday nights at this unassuming West Lakeview dive bar have made it a must-see stop on Chicago’s thriving experimental jazz scene. It also has plenty of comfy seating if you just want to kick back with your friends.
* Jazz Showcase 21+ 806 S Plymouth Ct (312-360-0234, jazzshowcase.com). Long heralded as Chicago’s leading jazz venue, the venerable club has been forced to relocate more than once since its inception in 1947. However, since moving to swank new digs in 2008, the Showcase has easily reestablished its reputation for bringing in top-shelf talent like the Bad Plus and Miguel Zenón.
Katerina’s 21+ 1920 W Irving Park Rd (773-348-7592, katerinas.com). Den mother Katerina supports local jazz and world music like few others. Inside her cozy venue, you can catch Gypsy violinist Alfonso Ponticelli, jazz chanteuse Grazyna Auguscik and Brazilian guitarist Paulinho Garcia.
Blues, roots & country
B.L.U.E.S. 21+ 2519 N Halsted St (773-528-1012, chicagobluesbar.com). The “other” popular Lincoln Park blues club, more traditional and down-home compared to Kingston Mines’ fluorescent sports-bar atmosphere. Popular acts include local stalwarts such as Peaches Staten and Vance “Guitar” Kelly. On “Blues Alley” Sundays, admission to B.L.U.E.S. gets one into Kingston Mines, too.
Blue Chicago 21+ 536 N Clark St (312-661-0100, bluechicago.com). A struggling economy means blues has, well, got those ol’ downsizing blues. Hey, blues singers are used to hard times. They feed on it. There were once two Blue Chicagos, located in close proximity and so similar as to be virtually interchangeable. Now only one remains, focusing on local female blues vocalists such as Shirley Johnson.
* Buddy Guy’s Legends 21+ 700 S Wabash Ave (312-427-1190, buddyguy.com). If you want to see Guy perform at his own club, stop by in January when he takes over the schedules. If you show up the other 11 months of the year, you may well see him sitting at the bar, overseeing the whole operation: He’s more than just a name on the sign outside.
FitzGerald’s 21+ 6615 W Roosevelt Rd, Berwyn (708-788-2118, fitzgeraldsnightclub.com). Perhaps Chicago’s premier roots music showcase, this homey haunt out in Berwyn features an array of zydeco, country, rockabilly, big band and blues acts alongside occasional big-band jazz.
House of Blues Back Porch Stage 329 N Dearborn St (312-923-2000, houseofblues.com). The majority of the bands featured on the HOB’s Back Porch Stage are blues bands, playing in a well-lit setting meant to look like a juke joint (but actually resembling a museum of modern art).
Kingston Mines 21+ 2548 N Halsted St (773-477-4646, kingstonmines.com). This polite Lincoln Park club has an unusual setup—two different bands in two different rooms on two different stages. Expect to find local bands that lean in a rock direction while playing standards such as “(I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man,” though the club occasionally books out-of-town acts as well.
Lee’s Unleaded Blues 21+ 7401 S South Chicago Ave (773-493-3477, leesunleadedblues.com). Since the demise of the original Checkerboard, Lee’s has inherited the title of the South Side’s leading blues bar, and with good reason. The unassuming brick house, across from an auto wrecker in the shadow of the I-90 overpass, books a variety of local acts for seasoned regulars ready to hop. Perhaps the last truly authentic juke joint in the city.
* Old Town School of Folk Music, Maurer Hall 4544 N Lincoln Ave (773-728-6000, oldtownschool.org).There are weekly Global Dance Parties across the street at the new Szold Hall, plus occasional shows at the Old Town location (909 W Armitage Ave at Fremont St). However, the bigger concerts staged by this lovable Lincoln Square institution, featuring folk, blues, country and world-music acts, are held up in the more capacious Maurer Hall. Take in everything from Senegalese hip-hop to tropicalia for little to no cost on World Music Wednesdays. It’s still a school, too, by the way: satisfy your undying urge to learn the Autoharp or oud.
Red Line Tap 21+ 7006 N Glenwood Ave (773-274-5463, heartlandcafe.com). Adjacent to the Heartland Café and claiming the same delish kitchen, the Red Line Tap books small-time but usually endearing rock, folk, country and punk bands.
Rosa’s Lounge 21+ 3420 W Armitage Ave (773-342-0452, rosaslounge.com). Located in a working-class West Side neighborhood, this family-run spot is owned by fine local drummer Tony Mangiullo and his mother, after whom the place is named. The schedule mixes local musicians (including a weekly jam hosted by Tony) and underground out-of-town acts with growing reputations. A full crowd makes Rosa’s seem cosy rather than congested, a sign of a good venue.
Uncommon Ground 3800 N Clark St (773-929-3680, uncommonground.com). One of Chicago’s most beloved coffeehouses hosts the city’s best weekly open-mic night alongside shows from local and touring folk artists. Thanks to a much-ballyhooed set by the then-unknown Jeff Buckley in 1994, the cozy shop even has an annual tribute to the late singer-songwriter in November.
* Uncommon Ground Edgewater 1401 W Devon Ave (773-465-9801, uncommonground.com). The Rogers Park/Edgewater spin-off of the Wrigleyville institution picked up where defunct South Loop joint the HotHouse left off, booking world and jazz that is, frankly, superior to the more standard coffeehouse fare on stage at its big brother.
Charter One Pavilion 1300 S Linn White Dr (312-540-2000, livenation.com). In addition to O’Hare and Midway, Chicago used to have a small third airport called Meigs Field right along the lakefront. It got bulldozed, and since then the site’s been hosting a handful of open-air concerts, handled by the behemoth Live Nation. It’s lovely to see a summer show with the lakefront breeze to cool you down.
First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre 19100 S Ridgeland Ave, Tinley Park (708-614-1616, livenation.com). Located in the south suburb of Tinley Park (and, due to multiple name changes, still known simply as “Tinley Park” to most Chicagoans), this is where multiband summer fests like Warped Tour come to play, as well as major summer tours that range from Radiohead to Wiz Khalifa. The acoustics leave much to be desired, so avoid the lawn and try to score pavilion seats.
Grant Park, Petrillo Music Shell 235 S Columbus Dr (312-744-3315). Not far from Millennium Park, which is relatively new to the scene, Petrillo has been the longtime outdoor amphitheater for free shows. The annual Blues and Jazz Fests take place here, as well as big names who play the Taste of Chicago food fest.
Millennium Park, Pritzker Pavilion 205 E Randolph St (312-742-1168, millenniumpark.org). This city-sponsored venue hosts world-music and jazz shows in a beautifully designed bandshell in Millennium Park. Thank the city, as it’s also free (save the occasional Death Cab for Cutie or Pavement show). The city curates indie-rock gigs in the summer in its killer Downtown Sound series. Blog darlings such as St. Vincent and Dirty Projectors have stopped by. Nothing beats the sight of indie skronk scaring away tourists.
Ravinia Pavilion 418 Sheridan Rd, Highland Park (847-266-5100, ravinia.org). Don’t be daunted by the suburban address—Ravinia is easy to get to via Metra (it has its own train stop). The lawn is beautiful, perfect for basking in the sun and picnicking (there’s also plenty of gourmet food available for purchase). You won’t be able to see the stage too well if you’re not in the seating area, though. The shows skew on the older side: Blues, jazz and cabaret are popular here, and the rock acts tend to be aging crowd-pleasers, but it’s impossible not to have a fun time. Also see Classical & Opera Listings.