Top 10 dance clubs

From disco to dubstep and house to hip-hop, from dusk until dawn, these are the best Chicago nightclubs for dancing

Photograph: Hallie Duesenberg
The 12 Days of Porn and Chicken tour hit MaxBar on Saturday, December 21, 2013.

Three decades ago, dance club DJs Ron Hardy and Frankie Knuckles starting spinning a new breed of disco music built from bass and drum machines. They played these hypnotic electronic records by producers like Jessie Saunders and Mr. Fingers at the Warehouse nightclub. Thus, "house" music was born.

Today, the Warehouse is long gone from Jefferson Street. That area of the West Loop is better known for its art galleries and cutting-edge restaurants (though the Mid keeps EDM thriving in the 'hood). Point is, Chicago invented this whole house music thing. We know how to get down. There are dance parties at clubs and bars across the city, offering everything from hip-hop to country. These ten are our favorite spots for a sweaty night of dancing.

Beauty Bar

With outposts in New York, San Francisco, Austin and Portland, Chicago seemed like the next logical location for the kitsch-happy Beauty Bar concept. Retrofitted into the old Sonotheque, the bar carried over the sound system but otherwise got a complete face-lift. Sparkling glitter paint adorns the walls, '60s beauty salon furniture acts as seating, and the backroom dance floor is completed with a shimmering disco ball. The music stays obscure and mostly dusty during the week, but DJs turn it into an electro dance party most weekends.

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West Town


This freak-friendly dance destination in Lakeview built its reputation back in the mid-’80s with a mix of German new-wave music, art installations and even transvestite shows. These days, it’s still quirky but more retro, with Prince-tribute, disco and ’80s nostalgia nights. Goths and gays are extra welcome, but the scene here is made up of almost everyone. Thursday night's Stardust a major locus of creativity in nightlife.

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After a recent remodel, the one-time jazz club Green Dolphin Street has been reimagined as posh Sin City hang out with 100% dance music all weekend, multiple rooms of DJs, and an opulent outdoor patio complete with cabanas. The venue's namesake house night Boom Boom Room continues on Sundays and DJs spin beats throughout the weekend.

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Lincoln Park

Evil Olive

This spot may have changed names more than any other venue in the 'hood, but it’s become an unlikely young hipster hangout thanks to long-standing weekend dance parties hosted by local jocks Zebo, Marco Morales, Johnny Walker, and the Porn and Chicken posse. It's making serious inroads on our weekdays as well thanks to the over-the-top exploits of Monday throwdown Porn and Chicken and Thursday's Let's Get Weird. No one really loved the Evil Olive space, but through sheer force of party will and audacity (and porn, and fried chicken) it's the joint.

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Noble Square

The Mid

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. Brought to us by some of Chicago's biggest promoters, this Fulton Market area upstart only took a few years to rise to the top. It now nabs many of the big name bookings swinging through town—which can mean huge lines to get in.

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West Loop


Between its oversize dance floor, massive LED wall, 30-foot bar and craft cocktail program, Primary is sure to become the envy of its Gold Coast neighbors, and fast. Owned by a posse of nightlife veterans with their ears to the sound of now, it's a hip alternative to clubs near the "triangle" that have been coasting with the same formula. Look for some of the city's top up-and-coming DJs spinning house, electro, dubstep, underground disco and indie dance alongside the occasional global talent. What do real clubbers crave? An intimate, music-focused but still stylish night out free of bullshit. This NKOTB puts it all on a top soundsystem. We think this basement club fills the void left by Sonotheque.

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Gold Coast

The Shrine

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. Joe Russo's vision of a DJ-driven club with an Afrocentric vibe has blossomed. It's also a legit venue for touring rap and funk acts .

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Smart Bar

Critics' pick

Originally on the fourth floor of the magnificent Wrigleyville building (also home to Metro; see Music venues, Rock, pop & hip-hop), this venerated dance club is now in the basement. A makeover in 2006 slicked up the looks a notch and brought back a vibrant young crowd. But more important, the club boasts a world-class Funktion One sound system, which sounds tremendous on the central dance floor. Cutting-edge DJs from Europe, Detroit and Chicago form the bulk of the weekend bookings with house, techno and electro styles; but local mash-up and indie jocks rule on bargain weekday nights.

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Spy Bar

This basement club in the River North gallery district has had the deep, underground techno sound on lock for some time now. It has the illicit feel of an after-hours bottle-service spot and the premium sound for the big-name house, techno and electro DJs who visit weekly.

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River North

Studio Paris

Second-generation restaurateurs R.J. and Jerrod Melman raised the bar with the opening of this second-floor nightclub above their French restaurant, Paris Club. Tables can be secured only with bottle-service reservations, resident and touring DJs spin, and roving photographers snap black-and-whites of the scene. In warm weather, a retractable roof turns the room into an open-air deck.

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River North