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The 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

Photograph: Martha Williams
Bub City

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. You don't have to plan a weekend getaway to sip a Lone Star while listing to twangy ballads. Country is the barbecue of music—it's everywhere. So throw on your flannel and denim—we have a joint for all tastes, from Hank Williams to Taylor Swift.

RECOMMENDED: Find more of the best bars in Chicago

Best country bars in Chicago

1

Big Star

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Wicker Park's taco stop of choice has been jammed since it opened. 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
2

Bub City

Glossy photos of Nashville stars cover the walls of this River North saloon. There are slushy machines filled with (really good) booze. You will yell over the din to grab the attention of the bartender, who is taking Bud Light orders. 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
3

Carol’s Pub

A honky-tonk in Sheridan Park with cheap domestic beers, country and western karaoke and house band Diamondback on weekends. A pool table in back, greasy grill turning out late-night burgers and Hank-filled jukebox round out the grit fest at this down-home watering hole.

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Uptown
4

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
5

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 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 transit, but it's worth the trouble.

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River West/West Town
6

Honky Tonk Barbecue

Success on the competition circuit and local festivals prompted Willie Wagner to set up a permanent home for his “Memphis-style,” dry-rubbed barbecue in Pilsen. The bar and restaurant is always slammed with diners waiting for a taste of the delicious meat—especially on weekends, when honky tonk, folk and blues acts take the stage and perform.

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Lower West Side
7

The General

Named in honor of Civil War hero General John A. Logan (the same guy who gave Logan Square its moniker), the General brings a taste of the South to the Northwest Side neighborhood. Sit down at the bar and chow down on a Tex-Mex taco and a 12-ounce boot of local beer. A weekly cowboy jukebox night and a monthly Bloodshot Records DJ gig are packed with plenty of twangy tunes.

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Logan Square
8

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 about busty women spilling out of corsets waving fans at you from a balcony, be aware that this is the 21st century. 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
9

Belly Up Smokehouse & Saloon

There's something about blaring country music that makes you want to devour some sauce-covered meat, which is something that Belly Up takes advantage of. The South Loop spot has ribs, wings and a fully-stocked bar for you to enjoy while you admire the Southern decor and listen to the contemporary and classic Nashville tracks.

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Loop
10

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, off-track betting nearby (a rarity in a city once rife with OTB joints) and more than 100 television screens for fanatical clubs of the Illini, the Indiana Hoosiers, UCLA Bruins, the Georgia Bulldogs and the Steelers.

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River North
11

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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Lake View
12

The Pony Inn

The plethora of televisions turned to ESPN here would suggest this is just another vanilla sports bar. And yet, with rust-colored tin and sleek blonde wood covering every surface, the place is so gorgeous it cancels out any annoying Cubs fan behavior. (And if it doesn't, a respectable lineup of draft beer and a blaring Nashville soundtrack can lend a hand.)

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Lake View

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Due to its central location in the middle of the country, Chicago has always been a destination for touring musicians. Consequently, the city is filled with classic theaters that date back to the early 1900s and modern clubs that draw on the area's rich live music tradition. Whether you're a passionate music geek trying to discover the next hot indie act or want to see one of your musical heroes in front of a crowd of thousands, here are the Chicago music venues that should be on your radar.

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By: Zach Long

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