Seeing big-name artists at giant venues can be fun. But sometimes it's great to see live music in a setting where you can actually see the faces of people on stage, and maybe even support some neighborhood spots. Luckily Chicago is full of great bars and restaurants where you can do this, so you have plenty of options. From old Prohibition-era bars to BBQ restaurants where you can hear someone shred on an electric cello, here are the best places to eat and drink while listening to live music.
The Green Mill
This cash-only, cocktail lounge used to be one of Al Capone’s favorite Uptown spots, complete with secret booze-smuggling tunnels. Unfortunately, those are no longer in commission (so you can’t use them to dodge the cover fee), but this venue still maintains the old-timey decor, and has a fantastic regular line-up of jazz music. Come here to sit at their large wooden bar and sip on a strong Old Fashioned, or to drink stiff martinis in a big booth while a big band blasts Duke Ellington.
The Bassment is an underground speakeasy with live music every Thursday through Saturday. For a $10 cover, you can listen to a wide variety of artists performing everything from R&B to funk to country. There’s usually a packed dance floor, but you can also enjoy the music from a comfy couch in the back lounge surrounded by portraits of Tupac, Biggie, Jimi Hendrix, and taxidermied deer heads. Plus, their bar also offers bottle service in case it’s going to end up being that kind of weekend.
photo credit: Sarah Larson
A century ago, this small bar in Bucktown was a go-to spot for locals who weren’t going to let Prohibition stop them from having a good time. Now, the drinks are legal, but the Hideout has become one of the city’s most established performance venues. It’s essentially just a small old shack, but it’s a perfect space when you want to be as close as possible to the music. They often have a wide variety of artists—solo singers to psychedelic space rock bands—and a great summer concert series if you want to listen to some tunes on a patio.
photo credit: Christina Slaton
Despite its name, Reggies Rock Club in South Loop is not rock music exclusive. Sure, you can occasionally come here for a hair metal show at decibel levels that will make you wonder if your beer glass will explode. But this old-auto-repair-shop-turned venue also has everything from underground rap artists to expert-level banjo players. And if you need to grab a meal before the show, their restaurant next door, the Music Joint, has bar food like wings and burgers.
Andy's Jazz Club
Andy’s is a massive River North Jazz club with a full food menu and plenty of tables if you’re hoping for dinner and a show. And though you’ll find a white table cloth on every table, the high-ceilinged space is casual enough that you can feel comfortable in a T-shirt. The food is pretty decent, with entrees like braised short rib and shrimp risotto. But we usually just come for a drink and the fantastic jazz sets. Andy’s highlights a wide range of talent, and with most nights having three sets, it’s easy to spend an entire evening here—just know that the $15 cover is per set.
photo credit: Clayton Hauck
The California Clipper
This Humboldt Park spot started out as a speakeasy in the 1930s, but has evolved into a busy bar with live music, DJ sets, and dancing. California Clipper has a great sound system, so whether you’re listening to a jazz set or solo blues guitar, you’ll be able to hear everything with perfect clarity. And despite changing ownership over the years, the space has maintained its warm-yet-slightly-ominous-red lighting that makes being here feel like an episode of Twin Peaks.
If you’ve been following any Soundcloud artists, chances are they’ll be playing a show at Schuba’s. This Lakeview bar is a popular stop for up-and-coming artists, so it’s a great resource if you're the person in your friend group responsible for knowing what's “cool." The bar serves food, but it isn’t allowed in the performance space, so you’ll want to get there a little earlier if you want to finish your fried chicken sandwich before the show starts.
photo credit: Steven Vance
Thanks to affordable beer and its charmingly grungy space, The Empty Bottle is one of the best dive-bar-performance-venue combos in the city. But don’t let its low key look fool you, this bar has been graced with early performances from The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The White Stripes, so it’s a great place to catch someone before they start charging $100 at United Center. Plus, you can also grab some fantastic pizza from Pizza Friendly Pizza, which has a takeout window inside the venue.
Coming here is a great way to see some local talent while also getting your smoked meat fix. Smoke Daddy is a spacious BBQ restaurant in Wrigleyville (with another location in Wicker Park) that hosts live music. One night there might be a solo guitarist, another night there might be a rock trio, and on one occasion we even saw an electric cello set. The performance line-up is always full of a variety of artists, and the ribs and pulled pork are solid.
Winter’s is an intimate Streeterville jazz club that has a sleek modern look. Performances are ticketed, and range between $20-30, depending on the seat: a VIP table right in front of the stage, or a side table with a less-than-ideal view. But when we just want to pop in, we grab a seat in the lounge area just outside of the main performance space. Here we don’t need a ticket, and while we can’t see the stage, the sound of live jazz makes our drink taste better.
As you walk down North Ave in Wicker Park, you might notice Dorian’s: A tiny record shop with a small vinyl selection and a listening booth. But the speakeasy hidden behind the listening booth is the real reason to come here. Secret—Dorian’s is a dark narrow cocktail lounge with sleek couches and a small stage behind the bar. There are acts like Afro-cuban groups, jazz trios, and DJs. But regardless of who’s playing, the great cocktails and fun crowd make it easy to stay here until close.
photo credit: Erin Nekervis
This North Center spot is the real life incarnation of our Spotify Discover playlist. Martyr’s showcases a lot of genres and a mixture of up-and-coming as well as already-established acts. And just going in blind is one of the best parts—one night we walked in to find a country music set, and on another there was a teenage rock band playing to a packed house after scrambling to finish their geometry homework. The small venue is roomy enough for dancing, plus has a bar where you can order some decent pizza.
We love seeing concerts at Pilsen’s Thalia Hall. But when we want a low-key place where we can also grab some food, its adjacent piano bar, Tack Room, is the perfect spot. Most of their performances are solo piano, but occasionally they’ll have singers, or a salsa trio when they open up their patio space during the summer. It’s small, but the candlelit space makes it perfect for a date night, or anytime you want to be serenaded while you sip on a cocktail and eat a cheeseburger.
photo credit: Sandy Noto
Lincoln Park’s Kingston Mines has been around since 1968, and is still the best place for live blues in Chicago. The sprawling venue is open until 5am, has two stages, a sea of tables, and serves bar food like chicken wings and BBQ. There’s a cover charge at the door, but they offer all sorts of education, military, and birthday discounts. The space is constantly full of people dancing, from couples who met here 30 years ago to college students putting off their lecture notes for as long as possible.
Le Piano is Rogers Park jazz bar just off of the Morse Red line with live performances from local musicians Tuesdays through Sunday. In addition to cocktails and wine, they serve food, with dishes like lamb chops, chicken with a tarragon wine sauce, and beignets for dessert. And if you're in the mood for something special, the menu even has something called a "Happy Ending"—a personal piano serenade from the owner of the restaurant.