Top local music venues
Buddy Guy's Legends dates back a quarter century. The Jazz Showcase opened its door not long after the end of World War II. Yet it was this New York import, started by the founders of the famed Knitting Factory, that stole voters' hearts with its draught pinot gris and lineup of veteran singer-songwriters. Sitting at the end of Restaurant Row, City Winery Chicago now has sisters in Napa and Nashville.
Aragon is gorgeous inside, but the sound is notoriously dodgy. The Riv often feels like the lesser little sibling of that stately ballroom. So no wonder an institution like Green Mill cleaned up on the Far North Side. Yes, Al Capone was here. It's historial, yadda yadda yadda. But the joint remains a vital piece of the local jazz scene. Patricia Barber still holds down Monday nights, while a heavy dose of organists provide a vibe as chill as the martinis on the weekend.
Had we taken all the individual neighborhood winners and pitted them in an ultimate battle royale for best music venue in Chicago, our money would be on Lincoln Hall. Having just turned five years old, the club has already become as important to the local scene as Lounge Ax, the legendary club that once was just up the block. If the band is cool and trending, odds are it's here. And there are few better rooms in America to watch them.
When you're talking Near North Side, you're talking night clubs. And when you're talking night clubs, you're talking popularity, bodies, cocktails…a lot more than music. Billy Dec's Rockit Ranch Productions revamped this River North dance destination in 2013. Primary, Spy Bar and Sound-Bar may lure in bigger-name DJs from far afield, but this pretty-people haven won your vote with its dedication to the local scene, throwing modern house weeklies like the Every Damn Wednesday parties and Chicago Industry Alliance Sundays.
It was a battle of newcomers on the South Side—both launched in 2014 by Bruce Finkelman of the Empty Bottle and Craig Golden of Evanston's SPACE. In the end, the gorgeous Thalia Hall in Pilsen beat Hyde Park's the Promontory. With Dusek's and Punch House attached, it's kind of a no-brainer. Plus, Thalia's ornate room, fitted with opera boxes, hosted some of those behind our favorite albums of the year—Angel Olsen, Ty Segall, Panda Bear… We can't wait to go back for Ariel Pink, Andrew W.K.…
About time this place got some love. Sometimes, the best concerts are those where you know the folks onstage. The fact that Quenchers probably sports the most extensive beer selection of any rock club in the city helps, too. This fall, the music room was updated with a new stage and sound system, so that Logan Square garage act up there sounds pristinely scuzzy. Still, the joint is so casual and comfortable, it could have won with the old gear.
Don't ever renovate. Don't you dare start brewing craft beer in the back. We better not walk in one day and see pressed tin tiles on the ceiling. Okay, fine, the floor needed to be redone, but we swear, if one Edison bulb goes in a sconce… Look, the pissy, sticky, PBR ambience is the main reason we—and so many underground bands—keep coming back.