The Best Spots To Listen To Live Music Outside This Summer
The best places to eat, drink, and enjoy outdoor live music in Chicago.
Though that “Gr8 Pump-Up Jamz” Spotify playlist you made 6 years ago may still be getting some play time, nothing beats listening to live music outside after 18 months of winter and a nonexistent spring. And when paired with some snacks and a cold beverage, there’s no better way to experience summer in the city. From small jam sessions at a local watering hole to full-on orchestral performances at Millennium Park, these are the best places to eat and drink while listening to outdoor live music.
Pilsen’s Thalia Hall is a great indoor concert venue, but if you want to listen to live music without paying $10 for mysterious “processing fees”, head to their adjoining bar, Tack Room. Tack Room’s outdoor summer line-up has a wide range of piano-focused sets featuring artists performing original songs and even audience requests, all of which you can enjoy from their outdoor patio. While their regular menu has food like cheeseburgers, mussels, and wings, they have ceviche and salsa music series every Sunday in July with music from their in-house band, the Tack Room Rumberos. Click here for their performance calendar.
Semilla's Latin Kitchen & Wine Bar
You just spent an afternoon at Loyola Beach in Rogers Park and want to check out some live music. Luckily Semilla’s is just a few steps away. Every Friday and Saturday this wine bar has solo guitar performances on their outdoor patio accompanying their Mexican-Peruvian menu full of dishes like piri piri chicken, quesadillas, and ceviche. And because their patio is covered, you won’t have to worry about getting drenched during a random Chicago rainstorm, or applying your ninth layer of SPF 120 for the day.
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photo credit: Kim Kovacik
Archie’s Cafe is a casual Rogers Park spot that feels more like hanging out at a friend’s house than a restaurant. It has coffee, booze, and a rotating food menu that includes a little bit of everything. Certain nights are devoted to pizza or pasta, while on weekends it functions as a breakfast, lunch, and dinner spot serving everything from breakfast sandwiches to tacos. And during the summer, they frequently have musicians performing on the sidewalk, from lunchtime acoustic guitar sets to full-fledged jam sessions that end at their “midnightish” closing time.
Just off of the Morse Red Line is Le Piano, a Rogers Park jazz bar. And according to Block Club, they plan to have outdoor summer performances as part of Chicago’s Alfresco program. With an outdoor piano set up, they’ll host musicians covering a wide range of genres including classical, jazz, and blues. In addition to cocktails and wine, Le Piano also serves food, with dishes like lamb chops or chicken with a tarragon wine sauce.
photo credit: Sam Rice
Ina Mae Tavern & Packaged Goods
For Booze and Blues, head to Ina Mae Tavern in Wicker Park on Thursdays. From 7pm-10pm, they have $10 Old Fashioneds and a live blues set. You can also order from their delicious southern menu, which has staples like fried chicken and po boys. And though you might feel full afterward, the sight of their sugar-covered beignets will make you remember that you have a second stomach just for desserts.
photo credit: Sarah Larson
A hundred years ago, this tiny bar in Bucktown was a go-to spot for locals looking to break some Prohibition laws. Now, it’s still slinging beer (legally) but has also become one of the city’s most beloved performance venues. In the summer they host performances on their small front porch. There, in an intimate open-air setting, you can hear anything from rock trios to the melodious twang of a solo banjo. Paired with one of their cheap beers on tap and it makes for a perfect, laidback Chicago summer night. Check here for their performance calendar.
photo credit: Brian Kinyon
Babygold Barbecue is attached to Fitzgerald’s, a Berwyn bar and performance venue that’s been around since the 1980s. It’s a great place to hear live music throughout the year with two indoor stages hosting anything from local funk bands to touring jazz ensembles. But it’s their third performance venue, an outdoor patio, that makes this place worth leaving the city limits. You can enjoy the tunes, sip on a frozen paloma, and stuff your face with ribs. Check here for their performance calendar.
The Dock at Montrose
If you’re looking for a place that has live music every night, The Dock at Montrose Beach in Uptown is a must-visit. Shows start at 7pm, and feature artists and bands covering a wide array of genres from Latin jazz, to funk, to rock, all accompanied by a crisp lakeside breeze. Sit on the beach, or grab one of the tables with beach umbrellas. You can also order food like tacos and burgers without getting a farmer's tan.
Reggies On The Beach
Located on 63rd St. Beach in Woodlawn, Reggies on The Beach is the newest addition to the Reggies family, who also have music venues Rock Club and Music Joint. This Jackson Park beach version follows the same tradition with local acts performing everyday—from high energy rock shows to toned down acoustic sets. They also have a short menu with burgers and quesadillas. The food, music, and beautiful lakeside view will make you forget it was 30 degrees in April.
Though Navy Pier is a tourist sinkhole that most locals make every effort to avoid, it’s also one of the best places to catch free live outdoor music. From their beer garden to their Wave Wall Staircase, there’s performances here every Sunday, Thursday, and Friday. You can hear local rock bands, jazz groups, and a weekend festival in August highlighting the music of the Latin American diaspora. If you get hungry, you can grab a burger or hotdog from the beer garden, or check out one of the not-terrible Navy Pier restaurants like Billy Goat Tavern or Giordanos. Check back here for their event calendar.
Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
Every Tuesday in June, the MCA has free live jazz on their back terrace from 5:30-8:00pm. You can reserve seats online, or, if you want to make a picnic out of it, you can experience the music (and hopefully not too humid weather) on MCA’s lawn. Though outside food or alcoholic beverages aren’t allowed, there’s a small menu of things like sliders and tacos along with beer and cocktails. Tuesdays are also free museum days for Illinois residents, so you can have lunch at the reopened Marisol, an afternoon of surrealist photography, followed by an evening filled with Charles Mingus. Click here to see the line-up.
Pier 31 Restaurant
Starting May 27, Pier 31 Restaurant in Douglas will be open for the season. It’s the perfect place to catch some live music and grab a quick bite after falling asleep on the beach for a compelling performance of Person Imitating Bread Turning Into Toast (coming soon to the MCA). They have local musical acts like soul bands and live DJ sets and a small menu with food like nachos and burgers—all of which can help take your mind off your newly acquired sunburn.
Jay Pritzker Pavilion
From June to September, The Jay Pritzker Pavilion in the Loop is one of the best places to listen to live music outside. Here, you can listen to a set from Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy, return for some Tchaikovsky with The Grant Park Orchestra, and then come back on a weekend for Jazz Fest. Outside food and drink is allowed, which makes these concerts perfect for picnics. But if the mere thought of formulating a plan dries out your tongue and triggers the appearance of hives, you can just grab a beer and bratwurst from one of the surrounding concession stands. Click here for the Millennium Park event calendar.
Waterfront Cafe is an Edgewater restaurant that's attached to a coach house in Berger Park. They have a large patio which regularly features a variety of music sets from small jazz trios to solo songwriter performances. They have a takeout window where you can order drinks and food like nachos, salads, and a lobster roll. If you're looking for an outdoor spot to hear some music by the lake that's as far away as possible from rambunctious boat parties of The Play Pen, this is a great option.