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12 best country music bars and honky tonk clubs

Connect with your inner outlaw and two step to country bands at Chicago's best country music bars and honky tonks. (Yes, we have them.)

Photograph: Martha Williams
Bub City

When you think country music, the first city that comes to mind is Nashville. Or perhaps somewhere else in the Deep South. Though Chicago sits well above the Mason-Dixon Line, our city has a legitimate claim as a country-music hub. After all, this is the birthplace of Bloodshot Records and alt-country music. Local musicians like Uncle Tupelo, the Handsome Family and Robbie Fulks put the outlaw back in country. US 99.5 FM, our country music station, has been the highest rated of the genre in America. After all, country music is American music. It is the barbecue of music. So throw on your flannel and denim—we have a joint for all tastes from Hank Williams to Taylor Swift.

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Big Star

Critics' pick

Wicker Park's taco stop of choice has been jammed since it opened five years ago. Some come for the al pastor, some for the whiskey and shit-kickin' tunes. Don't be fooled by the fact that Big Star shares a name with a '70s power-pop band—the bartenders spin old, old-school hillbilly and outlaw stuff, tough tunes for tender meats. Though the mustaches here tend to be ironic.

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Wicker Park

Bub City

Toby Keith would love this bar. In fact, it’s his kind of place. Glossy photos of Nashville stars cover the walls. There are slushy machines filled with (really good) booze. You will yell over the din to grab the attention of the bartender, who is scanning the crowd for hotties to send Bud Light cans to. You will drink many of these while waiting an hour for a table, then yell even louder as it gets later, the crowd gets drunker and the band takes the stage. Country karaoke is every Tuesday at 10pm, while the professionals tend to take the stage on the weekends.

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River North

Carol’s Pub

A honky-tonk in Sheridan Park with $1.50 domestics on Mondays, country & western karaoke on Thursdays and the house band Diamondback on weekends, featuring sassy little Reba singin’ and strummin’ rhythm with a darn good gee-tar picker on lead. A pool table in back, greasy grill turning out late-night burgers and Hank-filled jukebox round out the grit fest.

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Uptown

Empty Bottle

Yes, this is Chicago’s premier indie rock club, hosting cutting-edge bands from home and abroad, but for years the ramblin' Hoyle Brothers have rocked the joint every Friday at 5:30pm. PBR aficionados (both the beer and the professional bull-riding league) can kick back with a cold one and see why music writers dubbed this stuff "insurgent" country.

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Ukrainian Village

FitzGerald's

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. All-acoustic country bands perform in a side bar.

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Berwyn

Hideout

A ramshackle roadhouse of country-rock in an industrial stretch of the city wouldn't be complete without a few characters hanging out on the porch no matter the weather. Longtime local acts like Kelly Hogan and Devil in a Woodpile (the 4th Tuesday of every month) play inside, but the music can still be heard over the cracking of PBR cans out front. It can be difficult to reach this juke joint via public trans, but it is worth it for the cheap beer, live country-rock and DJs dropping nostalgia, from Prince to Devo.

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Noble Square

High Noon Saloon

The operative word here is "saloon." This Wicker Park joint goes 19th-century with its country-western–themed theme. Well, to a point. Before you go thinking there are busty women spilling out of corsets waving fans at you from a balcony, be aware that this is the 21st centry. Which means the old saloon piano has been converted into a DJ booth, and HDTV screens show sports to all the tamale munchers (it's an official Blackhawks and Illini bar).

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Wicker Park

Horseshoe

This fun bar hosts some of the city’s better country acts every night of the week. There’s no cover, and if you’re up by 11am on a Sunday, be sure to stop in for Horseshoe’s tasty “bluegrass brunch,” complete with live bands.

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North Side

Houndstooth Saloon

It's easy to get caught up in Southern pride when Alabama alums holler "Roll Tide!" (Houndstooth is a reference to legendary coach Bear Bryant, don't cha know) at the flat screens with a Lone Star in one hand and a pulled-pork hoagie in the other. The familiar Old Style lettering glows out front, lest you forget the bar's Chicago roots.

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Wrigleyville

Joe's Bar

This multipurpose venue (it also hosts recreational sporting events) is fond of booking mainstream country—from pink-cheeked Nashville newcomers to the Charlie Daniels Band. There's a rooftop deck (pictured), off-track betting (a rarity in a city once rife with OTB joints) and over 100 television screens for fanatical clubs of the Illini, the Indiana Hoosiers, UCLA Bruins, the Georgia Bulldogs and the Steelers.

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Chicago
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