Being born and raised in the City of Broad Shoulders, there are many reasons to hold your head up and be proud – from it’s fiery history survived by a limestone tower on it’s magnificent mile, which serves as a symbol of the City’s endurance and grit, its imposing skyscrapers and resplendent downtown architecture that rose from the ashes, its glistening lake hugged by it’s surrounding parks, its championship winning sports teams, to the diverse neighborhoods and their unique music and food that cultured me. It’s obvious Chicago, the Windy City, has more to offer then just wind. Of all of the things this city has to offer, one of the most important to me – as a live music habitué – is its live music venues. Chicago is full of halls, ballrooms, clubs, theaters and arenas, old and new, where you can enjoy a concert of any kind. With that said, I’d like to share with you – in no particular order – my top 5, which I rated from 1 to 5 stars for their Sound, Visibility, and Ambiance…
3730 N Clark St | Capacity – 1150
Originally built in 1927 as a Swedish Community Center, Metro was a jazz and folk club when current owner Joe Shanahan took it over and opened the top floor in 1982. A month later he had an opportunity to promote a show in the main room with a little known band from Athens, Georgia named R.E.M. The show was such a success that Metro started booking their weekend slots on a regular basis and the rest it history. The Metro stage has seen the likes of legendary bands and artists such as New Order, The Ramones, Depeche Mode, Billy Idol, James Brown, Iggy Pop, Bob Dylan, Prince, and Metallica etc… It has also served as a forefront of the Alternative/Grunge music movement of the 90’s as Chicago’s Smashing Pumpkins, Local H, Liz Phair, and Veruca Salt all started their careers there. Nirvana, Soundgarden and Jane’s addiction also came there to play in front of Chicago’s music aficionados. Today it hosts various shows from popular bands but still serves as a place where new and emerging artists come to cut their teeth. It also houses one of the city’s best night/dance clubs named Smartbar in the building’s basement where local and international DJ’s spin for the electronic music loving crowd.
4746 N Racine Ave | Capacity – 2500
Designed by architects Rapp and Rapp and completed in 1917 as a movie theatre for the famed Balaban & Katz movie theatre chain. It was a popular place to go out and enjoy a movie, because they would combine live musical acts with the films being shown, sort of like a live movie score/soundtrack. Every time that I walk in there, I picture it in its heyday buzzing with patrons excited to get to their seats to enjoy the show. Rumor has it that it is connected to The Uptown Theatre located across the street via underground tunnels, which also connect to the Green Mill – Capone’s old hangout. Gee, I wonder what they needed those for? It was later transformed into a private nightclub in 1986. Today, “The Riv” has definitely seen better days. But for me its one of Chicago’s most beautiful live music venues, as remnants of its glorious décor can still be seen, albeit under the dust covered interior. It’s still a wonderful place to catch a show as long as you don’t mind having to trek all the way to the basement to go to the washroom.
3159 N Southport Ave | Capacity – 165
The Lakeview neighborhood is home to one of Chicago’s music churches originally built by the Schlitz Brewing Company, which opened various tied-houses around the city. Although the building is well over 100 years old, the Schlitz décor has been beautifully maintained to this day which make it a very unique place to experience a concert. Its small capacity allows you to feel like you’re right on stage with the bands performing. Owned and operated by Chris and Mike Schuba since 1989 Schuba’s Tavern or Schuba’s – as most Chicagoans call it – is a must play venue for up-and-coming bands looking to catch the attention of Chicago’s die-hard music vanguards. Since opening, Schuba’s has helped launch the careers of many artists such as Dave Matthews, Modest Mouse, Death Cab for Cutie, Feist, My Morning Jacket, and the Shins just to name a few.
3145 N Sheffield Ave | Capacity – 1400
After three years of construction, The Victoria Theatre opened its doors in 1912. No expense was spared when creating this luxurious Italian marble and sculpture-filled, vaudeville house. Sadly, it had to shut its doors in 1932 due to the Great Depression. After being shut down for a while, it went on to become a Plasterers Institute in the 1940’s. In the 1960’s it became an automobile repair shop. The early 1970’s turned it into a X-Rated theatre until it was temporarily renamed the Roberto Clemente Theater, which featured Spanish language movies. Then in 1980s, Walter Klein Jr. transformed it into a live music venue, which hosted acts like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, No Doubt, David Bowie, Green Day, Pearl Jam, The Beastie Boys. The current owners, Jam Productions, who also own the Riviera Theatre, purchased it in 2000 and updated the marquee and installed a new roof and bathrooms. Today it continues to serve as one of Chicago’s best music venues; however, true to it’s cinematic past, the Vic is also home to the Brew and View nights, where second and third run movies are shown and patrons can purchase alcohol from any of its open bars.
2424 N Lincoln Ave | Capacity – 507
Originally opened as the Fullerton Theatre in 1912, it has also housed a garage and machine shop, the Crest Theatre and most recently the 3 Penny Cinema. Like most old buildings in Chicago, it has its place in Chicago’s mob history. In 1934, FBI sharpshooters were placed on the roof of the building to prevent John Dillinger’s escape from the Biograph Theatre – located directly across the street – as he attended a show with the “Woman in Red,” who identified him on the night he was killed. In 2009, The Schuba brothers, opened it as Lincoln Hall in order to continue booking bands that outgrew the original Schuba’s Tavern. It’s obvious from the moment you step in the main room that intimacy and sound were their priority. I have heard the experience of watching a show there described as watching one of your favorite bands with a small group of friends while listening to them through very expensive headphones. I would have to agree…
These are just some of the venues that make Chicago my kind of town, and there are obviously many amazing places to enjoy a show here that I didn’t mention since I can go on and on and on. I hope you can check out a live show during your next visit to Chicago if you haven’t already. What venues are your favorite and why? Let me know of place in your own hometown, as I never know where this gig will take me next. Who knows, I might find myself catching a show there someday…
Special thanks goes out to our friend, famous Rock ‘n’ Roll photographer, Paul Natkin for the amazing pictures seen here. Thanks, Paul. See you out there soon!