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tnk fest 2018
Photograph: Neal O'Bryan

The 15 best Chicago music venues

See rock bands, jazz combos, electronic acts, blues guitarists and more at the top Chicago music venues

By Zach Long

Thanks to its central location, Chicago has always been a destination for touring musicians passing through the Midwest on trips across the country. That's why the city boasts so many classic theaters, many of which date back to the early 1900s, and modern rock clubs that celebrate the area's rich live music tradition. It's also why the Chicago concert calendar is packed with worthwhile shows, even during the sometimes lean months of the summer music festival season. No matter what kind of music you enjoy—rock, hip-hop, jazz, blues, electronic—there's a place in the city to see some of the genre's finest performers up close. Make sure you experience an amazing concert at one of Chicago's best music venues.

Best Chicago music venues

Photograph: Jonathan Crawford

1. Lincoln Hall

Music Rock and indie Sheffield & DePaul

Opened in 2009 and owned by streaming performance purveyors Audiotree, Lincoln Hall has quickly become one of the city's most vital venues. This is where you'll typically see a band that is about to blow up, or an act that has already blown up and is playing a smaller venue for a change. A stone's throw from the site of the legendary Lounge Ax club, the joint books everyone from Alex Cameron to Beth Ditto in this great sounding room.

Photograph: Martha Williams

2. Empty Bottle

Music Rock and indie Ukrainian Village

Don’t be fooled by its unassuming exterior: This is Chicago’s premier indie-rock club, hosting cutting-edge bands from home and abroad. You'll find garage rockers, up-and-coming bands or electronic tinkerers on a stage crammed into a corner of the room (free shows on Monday night). Plus, the walls of the venue chart Chicago's storied musical history, filled with yellowed gig posters, tchotchkes and tons of strips from the Bottle's old photo booth.

Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

3. Hideout

Bars Dive bars River West/West Town

Once known primarily as a ramshackle roadhouse of country-rock in an industrial stretch of the city, the Hideout has become a place where new musicians, veteran performers and outspoken personalities of all stripes come together onstage during concerts, variety shows, comedy sets and more. It can be difficult to reach this tucked-away spot via public transportation, but it is worth it for the cheap beer, fresh sounds and DJs dropping nostalgia, from Prince to Devo.  

Thalia Hall
Photograph: Clayton Hauck

4. Thalia Hall

Music Music venues Lower West Side

Housed in a historic bohemian public hall that dates back to 1892, Thalia Hall reopened as a music venue with the help of the team behind local rock club the Empty Bottle. Bookings at the Pilsen concert hall range from Americana to psych-rock bands, all presented in a room that retains its character (including chipping paint on the walls) and sounds excellent. You’ll feel like you’re experiencing your favorite bands playing in a bygone era of Chicago’s history.

Nick Cave at Chicago Theatre | March 31, 2013
Photograph: Josh Mellin

5. Chicago Theatre

Music Music venues Loop

The Chicago Theatre is best known for its iconic marquee, a remnant of its past as an opulent French baroque-style movie palace. After being renovated several times over, the interior is equally magnificent, hosting performances by prominent bands like the Avett Brothers and Sigur Rós as well as established comedians such as Chris Rock and John Mulaney in one of the most ornate venues in the city.

tnk fest 2017
Photograph: Neal O'Bryan

6. Metro

Clubs Wrigleyville

Metro is one of the city’s older and more famous clubs, hosting a variety of midsize national touring acts of all genres, from rock to hip-hop to electronica. Stop by the adjacent GMan Tavern for a pre-show drink (you may run into one of the headlining artists knocking back whiskey) and head downstairs to Smart Bar after the final encore, where the music keeps playing late into the evening.


7. Schubas Tavern

Bars Pubs Lake View

Emblazoned with a Schlitz Brewery emblem that designates the historic building as a former tied house, this quaint club books smaller indie touring acts and local bands, leaning toward the acoustic singer-songwriter end of the spectrum. Hang out in the front bar without paying cover, or pay a few bucks to enter the small music room at the back of the venue. Next door, the Tied House brewpub serves craft beer, Midwestern cuisine and Schuba's famous mac and cheese.

Photograph: Brett Swinney

8. Constellation

Music Music venues North Center

Formerly known as the Viaduct Theater, this nondescript building overshadowed by the Belmont overpass is home to some of the city's most progressive jazz, contemporary classical and improvised music. Founded by local drummer and Pitchfork Music Festival talent buyer Mike Reed, Constellation boasts two performance spaces and a bar offering reasonably priced beer and cocktails. From local jazz groups to touring avant-garde performers, the venue is Chicago's home for anything that's "too weird" for the rock clubs.

Photograph: Max Herman

9. Vic Theatre

Theater Lake View

Known to Chicagoans as the Vic, this large club is easy to get to via train and hosts a variety of rock acts (we’ve seen everything from the Breeders to Jeff Tweedy here). Show up early to stake out a spot on the tiered floor, or head up to the seated balcony. When there's not a show, the Brew and View movie series takes over the venue, screening a string of recent releases for just $5 a ticket.

10. Green Mill

Bars Cocktail bars Uptown

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. Come early, as it’s usually busy.

The crowd for Rasputina at Pritzker Pavilion in Millenium Park on August...
Photograph: Cooper Link

11. Pritzker Pavilion

Things to do Millennium Park

During the summer, Millennium Park's Pritzker Pavilion is often filled with people taking in free classical performances or rock concerts under the city skyline. Boasting a striking design by architect Frank Gehry, you can get a great view of the stage whether you take a seat in the pavilion or watch the LED screen while eating a picnic on the lawn.

Photograph: Max Herman

12. Beat Kitchen

Bars Lounges North Center

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 onstage while regulars post up at the bar in front. With a great selection of reasonably priced beers and an interesting menu, it's also a great place to grab a bite before the show.

Wilco kicked off its six-night stand at the Riv, Friday Dec 5, 2014.
Photograph: Joshua Mellin

13. Riviera Theatre

Music Music venues Uptown

The Riv is generally considered to be the sister rock club to the Aragon, located just 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 Dan Auerbach or Miguel here. Those afraid of heights should probably skip the steep balcony seating, which has a tendency to vibrate during bass-heavy shows.

Photograph: Martha Williams

14. Subterranean

Bars Cocktail bars Wicker Park

Set right in the heart of Wicker Park, this venue has a place for those seeking concerts—and for those simply seeking a place to grab a beer. The upstairs is devoted to a live stage, which features rock and hip-hop acts nightly. The downstairs bar serves as a cozy den for the occasional concert, a weekly lineup of DJ nights and one of the city most well-attended hip-hop open mics.

Photograph: Max Herman

15. Aragon

Music Rock and indie Uptown

This beautiful, ornate and capacious space opened as a ballroom in 1926 with interior decor inspired by a Spanish village. These days, it serves as one of the biggest music venues within the city limits (and the only one with swords mounted above its stage). The 4,500-capacity room hosts acts such as Queens of the Stone Age, Run the Jewels, and deadmau5. Fair warning: The noise frequently bounces around that high, star-flecked ceiling until it sounds muddy.


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