Chicago’s music scene these days is as exciting as it is diverse. Music lovers can grab a seat in front of jazz musicians, metal bands or up-and-coming DJs on any night of the week. Plus, the city’s countless theaters and clubs offer an eclectic mix of historic architecture and modern design for your viewing pleasure. These are the best concert venues to visit in Chicago.
The Empty Bottle
Bar, Wine, Beer, Cocktails, $$$
Declared the “best place to see any show” by a lifelong Chicago resident and concert devotee, The Empty Bottle is a must-visit. What started as a dingy dive bar 20 years ago in the city’s Ukrainian Village has quickly turned into an acclaimed concert venue. The Empty Bottle has hosted countless artists and is currently open seven days a week, often featuring three different artists each night. Music enthusiasts can find anything from R&B by local Chicagoan DJ Taye to surfabilly by Super Sonic Space Rebels.
Originally meant to be a single-family home, The Hideout was built over the course of two days nearly 100 years ago. It began operating as a bar and music venue in 1934, just after Prohibition ended, and hasn’t slowed down since. The inviting, jovial vibe persists no matter the performer or crowd. Artists like Jack White, Wilco and the Flaming Lips have played here, along with countless unknown bands just getting off the ground. Located on the edge of Bucktown, just west of Lincoln Park, The Hideout promises variety, history, and camaraderie.
Designed to resemble the lavish opera house in Prague at the turn of the century, Thalia Hall is still a stunning work of architecture. Nearly a century after construction began in 1892, the Pilsen neighborhood theater received landmark status in 1989. Private balconies overlook a gorgeous wooden ground floor and stage. Indie-rock favorites like Yo La Tengo and Of Montreal play the venue, in addition to trending DJs and indie-pop bands. Concert-goers can also sip craft beers, cocktails or homemade punch from the bar.
If jazz is your tune, The Green Mill in Uptown should be number one on your list of concert venues to visit. Open until 4 am six nights a week (and 5 am on Saturdays), this legendary locale offers sets from big brass bands to jazz quartets, string orchestras to organ solos. The Art Deco joint has a real speakeasy vibe. Rumor has it that underground tunnels run from The Green Mill, across Broadway Avenue and into the Aragon Ballroom down the street—former escape routes for Chicago’s notorious gangster Al Capone.
Walking past Bottom Lounge in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood might give you the impression it’s just another industrial office center. Au contraire! This plain façade hides a concert venue gem behind its doors. With live music just about every night of the week, delicious sandwiches and tater tots in the front-of-house restaurant, and a patio with exquisite views of the skyline, Bottom Lounge offers a little something for everyone. Fans rave about the venue’s amazing sound quality and lack of pretension—two qualities that make seeing shows here a quintessential Chicago concert experience.
For anyone on the lookout for the best place to catch stellar DJs, techno music or a hot dance scene, Smartbar is the place to be. Located in the basement below the Metro, another great music spot in Chicago’s Wrigleyville neighborhood, Smartbar boasts wild dance parties in a building almost a century old with a state-of-the-art Funktion One sound system. Its Sunday night house music party called Queen! features drag performances and tunes from Smartbar’s resident DJs Derrick Carter, Garrett David, and Michael Serafini.
Any music venue that gets its start in 1960s America, particularly in a tumultuous year like 1968, has a lot of character and knows how to stand the test of time. Kingston Mines is a late-night hot spot hosting blues musicians from all over the country every night of the week. Patrons can pair a cold beer or strong cocktail with hearty Southern fare from Doc’s Rib Joint as they kick back, relax and enjoy the venue that both the Chicago Reader and the Chicago Music Awards have dubbed the best, most popular blues club in the city. Located in Lincoln Park, and open until 4 am almost every night, Kingston Mines is a Chicago staple.