Chicago's fertile music scene birthed house music and helped cultivate post-rock and industrial, but this will always be considered a blues town. Along with visits to Chicago's best attractions, boogieing to a bit of blues music is on the bucket list for most tourists. After all, Chicago was the home of Chess Records, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Bo Diddley and far too many others to name here. As the working class brought the artform north from Mississippi during the adolescence of industry, blues music become plugged in. Blues musicians are not only responsible for some of the best Chicago albums ever made, but, you know, rock-and-roll itself.
So, whether you just want to hear "Sweet Home Chicago" or dig a little deeper into the still vibrant local scene, we've assembled the blues clubs, juke joints and dive bars in the city.
Best blues clubs and bars in Chicago
This polite Lincoln Park club has an unusual setup—two different bands in two different rooms on two different stages, with MC Frank Pellegrino keeping things moving at all times. Expect to find local bands that lean in a rock direction while playing standards such as "(I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man," though the club occasionally books out-of-town acts as well.
Located in a working-class West Side neighborhood, this family-run spot is owned by fine local drummer Tony Mangiullo and his mother, after whom the place is named. The schedule mixes local musicians (including a weekly jam) and underground out-of-town acts with growing reputations. A full crowd makes Rosa’s seem cozy rather than congested, which is always a sign of a good venue.
If you want to see Guy perform at his own club, stop by in January when he takes over the schedules. If you show up the other 11 months of the year, you may well see him sitting at the bar, overseeing the whole operation: He’s more than just a name on the sign outside. The venue welcomes local and touring blues musicians seven days a week and stages free acoustic shows during lunch and dinner. And if you like Louisiana cuisine, the kitchen has just what you need.
A struggling economy means blues has, well, got those ol' downsizing blues. Hey, blues singers are used to hard times. They feed on it. There were once two Blue Chicagos in close proximity and so similar as to be virtually interchangeable. Now only one remains, focusing on local female blues vocalists such as Shirley Johnson and Claudette Miller.
Of course the music—blues provided by guitarists like Vance "Guitar" Kelly and Jimmy Burns every night—is too loud to talk over; you’re not supposed to talk over it. But you are supposed to drink, and if you want to have an easier time getting served, be nice to the ladies behind the bar—they don’t take any bullshit.
Go preshow, postshow or without seeing a show at all—the House of Blues’s restaurant is, in some ways, a show in itself. Blue's artists like Joanna Connor and Guy King regularly make appearances, while guests dine on po' boys, burgers and jambalaya. The venue throws a Gospel Brunch every Sunday at 10am and 12:30pm.
The Chicago outpost of Lagunitas Brewing Company is the largest craft brewery in the city, mixing up barrel upon barrel of potent, hoppy concoctions. The Douglas Park taproom hosts live music Wednesday through Sunday at 4:20pm. The lineup generally features local roots and blues acts, including artists like Jimmy Johnson and Diamond Jim Greene.
Gluttony grabs hold in this kitschy kitchen, and it doesn’t let go until the band plays its last bluesy, rockabilly note (usually around 1am). Blues acts like Paul Kaye and Jim Conway will make appearances, but the Smoke Daddy also showcases folk acts like John Kilmer. For grub, we urge you to reserve your hunger for “The Rib Sampler.”
During the week, River Roast offers riverside views and, as its name suggests, plenty of roasted meats. On Saturdays and Sundays, the River North restaurant hosts its weekly Blues & Brews brunch from noon–3pm, featuring a menu by Chef John Hogan paired with some of Chicago's top blues acts, such as Marty Sammon and the Mike Wheeler Band.