In honor of this week’s category open for voting in the 2016 XRT Listener Poll, I figured I’d throw together a list of my favorite spots to see live music in Chicago. The seemingly endless amount of quality venues was one of the main reasons I jumped at the chance to relocate to this wonderful city back in 2006. Hundreds of shows later, I feel like I can come up with a fairly-informed-and-in-no-particular-order top five, but it’ll hurt leaving some spots that are more than worthy of top-5 designation off the list. Here goes…
-This place is on the list for a gazillion reasons. They pull in quality acts, the bartenders are the best in the city, it’s not too big (which is obviously nice because it lets you get close to the artists that you know and love) and at the same time it’s not too small (which allows them to book well-known names), it’s right next door to the best bar in the city (IMO), the GMan Tavern, it’s directly above a 4am nightclub in case you feel like dancing the night away (and I believe your wristband from the Metro show will get you into Smart Bar cover-free most of the time)… Oh, and the owner is a swell guy. Lots to like here.
-Centrally located, this place popped up in 2009 and holy hell is the sound awesome in that place. With bars all over the venue, it’s always easy to get a drink, and you can always watch the floor servers in awe as they carry trays loaded with drinks high above their heads while making their way through a mass of humanity without ever spilling a drop. A great place to catch up-and-comers that often hit the stage late, which is perfect if you work evenings like I do.
-Some of the best performances I’ve seen in Chicago have happened here and the fact that it’s breathtakingly gorgeous on the inside doesn’t hurt either. If you’re going to the Chicago Theatre, you’re usually on your way to see someone special like Elvis Costello, The xx, Neil Young, Pet Shop Boys, Leonard Cohen, and St. Vincent, to name a few. When a venue offers tours several times each week, then you know it’s a pretty special place.
-It’s newly restored and shiny, and not only do you have a wonderful concert hall, you have different levels to explore with a few bars and a restaurant to keep you, um, hydrated and nourished. For some northsiders it can be a bit of a journey down to Pilsen, but it’s not too far from the L, the Blue Island bus line is a couple blocks away, and since everyone seems to Uber everywhere anyway, a couple more minutes and a couple more bucks to get to Thalia are more than worth it.
The Empty Bottle
-What, did you expect a list of favorite spots to see a show in Chicago without The Bottle on the list? They’ve been putting on shows there since 1992 and the place is a true classic. Yes, I said 1992. In some ways it feels like it should be a lot older than that, but that’s probably just due to the fact that the place rocks pretty much every single night, sometimes multiple times each night, so, yeah, it’s got some miles on it, but the miles have been memorable. Damn, it’s been a few months since I’ve been there. I’m due for another visit. Hey, how about an XRT Big Beat show on December 11 with American Wrestlers?! See ya there.