The local rock music scene in Chicago is a vast and respected one, always spitting out new artists and drawing others into its recording studios and concert halls. And who can blame these musicians? Combine the number of producers and artists who have created Chicago's best albums with the large array of music blogs and publications that make Chicago their home and this city becomes a goldmine for any act striving for success.
So whether you're a passionate music geek trying to discover the next hot indie act or just want to air guitar to some solos, here are some venues that should be on your radar. Heck, a few of them are good for just a burger.
The best rock venues in Chicago
In its half decade of existence, Lincoln Hall has quickly become one of the city's most vital venues. This is typically where you go see that band that is blowing up, or the artier ones that have already blown up. A stones throw from the gravesite of the legendary Lounge Ax club, brothers Chris and Mike Schubas book everyone from Foxygen to Charli XCX in this great sounding room (Wilco bestowed some of its high-end sound gear). The design is sleeker and more modern than its Lakeview sibling, Schubas, but the fresh-ground burger and the big booths are just as inviting. Yeah, even the food is good.Read more
Don’t be fooled by its unassuming storefront: This is Chicago’s premier indie rock club, hosting cutting-edge bands from home and abroad. 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. The club mascot, Radley the cat, passed away years ago, but his scent perhaps lives on. Most local shows are free with RSVP, removing the financial risk from gambling on an unknown bill. A great venue.Read more
Much like the Empty Bottle, this small club (its capacity is about a third of its new brother Lincoln Hall, which holds about 500) 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. The Harmony Grill serves up a mean brunch on weekends.Read more
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 Robbie Fulks and Devil in a Woodpile 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.Read more
The newest jewel in the Chicago music scene, this antique concert hall in Pilsen was rehabbed and reopened by Empty Bottle owner Bruce Finkelman and Craig Golden, who runs SPACE in Evanston, in the grand room above their restaurant and bar—Dusek's Board and Beer and Punch House. Yep, you can get Punch House punches at a rock show, too. A balcony wraps around the room and opera boxes hang above the stage, and you can sit inside them for a price during select shows. The bookings lean a little City Winery, a little Empty Bottle (of course), ranging from Americana to psychedelic garage.Read more
Metro is one of the city’s older and more famous clubs. Formerly known as the Cabaret Metro, it hosts a variety of midsize national touring acts of all genres, from rock to hip-hop to electronica. In the clubs early days, owner Joe Shanahan lassoed New Order, R.E.M., Depeche Mode and more, and later helped popularize industrial and grunge. The multilevel joint is a house hub as well, as its sister venue Smart Bar sits downstairs, bringing in ace DJs to one of the top dance clubs in in town.Read more
This welcoming corner bar in Roscoe Village is something of a stepping stone in Chicago's music scene, hosting many debut shows by local and touring bands in its dingy but intimate back room. On any given night, you'll find punk, garage and power-pop acts performing on stage while regulars post up at the bar in front. Boasting a great selection of reasonably priced beers and interesting menu items like the Thai pizza and lamb lollipops, it's also a great place to grab a quick bite before the show.Read more
Located in the heart of the nightlife action in Wicker Park, the Double Door is essentially the little brother to the Metro, which books its acts. Many older local bands play here, leaning toward the tattooed set, alongside turns from touring groups. With a small cocktail balcony and downstairs bar, dubbed Door No. 3, the space offers respite from a noisome opening act or a dark corner to smash faces.Read more
Set right in the heart of Wicker Park, this venue has a place for those seeking concerts—and for those simply seeking beer. The upstairs is devoted to a live stage, which features heavy rock, emo, indie and hip-hop acts nightly, while the downstairs bar serves as a cozy den for a weekly lineup of reggae and house nights. Subterranean is also one of the best places in town for underage 17-and-up shows. Sub-T is also now the home of The Lincoln Lodge, one of the top comedy nights in town.Read more
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 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.Read more
The Riv is generally considered to be the sister rock club to the Aragon, a block 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 Alt-J or Fitz and the Tantrums here. Those afraid of heights should probably give the steep balcony seating a miss. We've even felt it vibrate during a Cut Copy gig.Read more
Sleek, modern and attached to a delicious wood-fire pizza joint, the club caters to an older, folkie crowd, booking everything from venerable Cali bluesman Evan Bishop to Kaki King. There is the occasional hip indie gig, perhaps thanks to nearby presence of Northwestern University. For those driving, there’s a garage across the street.Read more
Better known as the Vic, this larger-size club is easy to get to via train and hosts a variety of rock acts (we’ve seen everything from Sonic Youth to Julian Casablancas here). It has a good number of 18-and-older and all-ages shows. If you’re 21, be sure to also check out Brew and View, where movies are shown and the heckles from the audience are usually more entertaining than what’s onscreen.Read more