Uptown may not have the cranking club scene neighborhoods like Logan Square can claim, but the Lawrence El stop is a serious entertainment destination, with the Riviera Theatre and Aragon Ballroom serving as two of the North Side's biggest rock venues. They're both dwarfed in size by their long-shuttered neighbor, the Uptown Theater, which is the target of ongoing restoration attempts—and dwarfed in stature by the iconic Green Mill, one of the top jazz clubs in the world.
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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 for local Latinos. Fair warning: The noise bounces around that high, pretty, star-flecked ceiling until it's a fat wad of mud in your ears.
Not a Boystown fan? Skip the stand-and-model parade and head to this laid-back Uptown saloon, where community matriarch Michelle Fire serves up tasty victuals to sunburned boys and girls at her famous Sunday buffets and keeps the rest of the week happening with tons of food and drink specials (like buck burgers on Mondays) and all-out dance parties on weekends.
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). Come early, as it’s usually understandably busy.
Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, Chicago’s longest-running piece of theater (two decades and counting), features an innovative ensemble of writer-performers, the Neo-Futurists, attempting to perform 30 miniplays in 60 minutes. The resulting late-night hour is equal parts block party and populist performance art. To ensure seats, show up no later than 10:45pm (or hit the early-evening Sunday show). Beyond TMLMTBGB, the Neos produce a season of original prime-time shows that take the Too Much Light aesthetic to feature length.
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.
What’s not to like about this cozy corner tavern? The enclosed beer garden is adorable, pooches are welcome and if you’re craving a nosh, you can grab grub at nearby T’s and bring it in. As for the clientele, it’s mostly thirty- and fortysomething gay dudes. But at SoFo, everyone is welcome.