The 14 Best Smaller Venues In Chicago
By Staff in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 29, 2014 9:20PM
As we get older, our tastes for attending concerts at larger venues has waned. Part of that lack of enthusiasm is we don't want to take out small loans to see aging acts charging top dollar, cashing in on nostalgia, coupled with Ticketmaster fees. (Fleetwood Mac would be an exception.) Another reason is basketball arenas don't have the best acoustics. Shit, for that matter, neither do older, mid-sized venues like the Aragon or the Riviera.
When it comes to seeing a concert these days, we gravitate to the smaller rooms across Chicago. These are the places where we can order a couple beers, settle into a narrow room steps away from the stage and watch both up-and-coming bands and established acts work crowds into a lather. We've picked 14 of our favorite smaller venues across town. Think of this as a companion piece to our best venues list from last year. As always, debate, dissect and discuss. Leave your picks in the comments.
From a distance, you might think The Hideout is a mirage. After all, you’ve probably traveled great (possibly public transit) lengths to get there and gotten lost at least once, inside its industrial corridor home. The Hideout takes its name seriously. But a tucked away, off the map oasis is the exact perfect location to hear your favorite band play or spend a night dancing to soul records. A show at The Hideout is intimate and homey because you’re literally on the first floor of a converted house complete with low ceilings, wood paneling and Christmas lights. The crazy thing about The Hideout though, is that they continue to pull in big names like Neko Case and Death Cab for Cutie. Go make the trek; it’s worth it. — Allison Kelley
The Hideout is located at 1354 W. Wabansia Ave.
B.L.U.E.S. is often overlooked by the swarms of folks—intoxicated or otherwise—lining up outside the noted orange awning of the more highly hailed Kingston Mines. For a more intimate and veritable blues experience, skip across Halsted Street to the narrow room that is B.L.U.E.S, snuggle (literally) up to the bar or near the stage (if you can muster) or snag a seat on the riser... and relax. The musicians, mostly local but legends, are on a stage as tiny as your table, jamming the blues like they were meant to be played. Now you get it. Get out on a Sunday night when admission to B.L.U.E.S also gets you into Kingston Mines. — Kristine Sherred
B.L.U.E.S. is located at 2519 N. Halsted St.
On an unassuming block of Fullerton sits The Burlington, nestled between next to nothing else but garnering patrons for a handful of legitimate reasons. The bar speaks modern dive with a handful of local drafts and plenty of inexpensive tallboy cans. If you don’t sit at the bar with neighborhood folk while waiting for the show to start, cozy up at one of the low church pews lining the wall for a good conversation. Then head to the small back room, perhaps after a boisterous exchange with the kind gatekeeper. From the stage, bands enjoy the intimacy of the room, a way to almost literally connect with the audience no matter its size while DJs help pack the front bar. The indie and experimental music from local and respected regional bands carries an underground feel (or maybe that’s the tiny room and daringly low lighting), but it’s always surprisingly pleasing in its breadth. — Kristine Sherred
The Burlington is located at 3425 W. Fullerton Ave.
If I’m on the fence about grabbing tickets to see a new band or musician, the venue will always tip my decision. And if that venue is Lincoln Hall, I’m sold. Housed in the former Three Penny Cinema, Lincoln Hall has quickly become my favorite spot to see a show for a number of reasons. With bi-level viewing you can choose to get up close or hang back and take everything in from the balcony. Either spot will give you a great view of the stage and unlike some older, more historic venues in town, you’ll be able to hear every note thanks to spot-on acoustics. The fact that the bar has an impressive beer list and serves Schubas’ mac and cheese doesn’t hurt either. — Gina Provenzano
Lincoln Hall is located at 2424 N. Lincoln Ave.
Located in the West Loop, Bottom Lounge is a place that consistently attracts diverse crowds for shows as well as their front and rooftop bars. I have learned of many bands by going to shows here where emerging and established artists alike have rollicked the stage. In addition to a busy and impressive event calendar, Bottom Lounge also offers an impressive selection of beer and a full menu featuring above-average pub fare such as burgers, wings, and sandwiches. The performance space is large yet intimate, affording crowds nice views of the stage along with a diverse range of bands and genres on their busy event calendar. This is a venue that is a go-to spot for anyone who loves live music that attracts a fun and diverse crowd who respect the performers and the space, making every visit here wholly enjoyable. This is an ideal place to wile away the afternoon with brews and pinball or to grab dinner before a performance. There are shows almost nightly, with upcoming shows including Blonde Redhead Nov. 3 and the Mark Lanegan Band Nov. 4. — Carrie McGath
Bottom Lounge is located at 1375 W. Lake St.
I spend a lot of time on my feet watching live music. Sometimes it's nice to enjoy a concert in a comfy chair. SPACE in Evanston has all the elements of a conventional Chicago jazz clubs—seated tables, cocktail waitresses and a stage that doesn't put much room between performers and audience members—but it brings in much more, style-wise. The intimate room gives bigger artists the opportunity to grow closer to their fans who are used to watching from afar. — Katie Karpowicz
SPACE is located at 1245 Chicago Ave. in Evanston.
The Lakeview tavern’s music room is narrow, the stage is small and seating is at a premium. But the wood walls are inviting and the acoustics—especially for bluegrass and folk bands—are among the best in Chicago. The booking here is always creative and the narrow width of the room makes even the most sparsely attended shows seem inviting and comfortable. — Chuck Sudo
Schubas Tavern is located at 3159 N. Southport Ave.
On the back wall of Martyrs’, you can find an autographed photo of Adele, obtained by the venue when she played there mere months before she hit the big time. That should give you an idea of the kind of classy joint you're dealing with. More of a cozy, candlelit hangout with dancing and music than a traditional concert hall, Martyrs’ is an oft-overlooked treasure trove of local and touring talent. — Katie Karpowicz
Martyrs’ is located at 3855 N. Lincoln Ave.
Fans of metal, punk and hardcore no doubt keep a pretty close eye on Reggie’s schedule, as they have been booking strong acts in those fields like gangbusters. Plus it’s a fun place to see a show. There really isn’t a bad spot in the joint and as long as there’s a moderately full room, it doesn’t sound so bad. If it’s empty however, it can get pretty noisy. The smaller music joint next door has a lot of fun events, too, like classic album nights, and they serve up a delicious fried pickle. — Casey Moffitt
Reggie’s is located at 2105 S. State St.
Lincoln Hall and City Winery Chicago are my two top venues in Chicago to see a show but this Rogers Park venue is close behind. The acoustics and sightlines at Mayne Stage rival Lincoln Hall’s while the programming is arguably more eclectic than City Winery’s, and at a fraction of the cost and without the oddly cramped dinner seating of that venue. Whether you’re looking for rock, ska, theater, international music styles or a quiet night of folk music, Mayne Stage likely programs it. — Chuck Sudo
Mayne Stage is located at 1328 W. Morse Ave.
Tucked away under Western Avenue is one of the most intimate and thoughtful small rooms in Chicago, a spot to grab a drink and enjoy a show in what feels like the confines of a small gallery or even your own home. Constellation’s calendar caters to the jazz and contemporary classical scene, which is the perfect type of music for the cozy setting that Mike Reed has cultivated at his venue. You might be familiar with Reed if you are involved in the jazz scene of Chicago (he’s an excellent drummer and composer). Or if you enjoy Pitchfork Festival every summer, you owe Reed a thanks as well. He’s one of the producers of the event, amongst many other endeavors that keep Reed busy contributing to the Chicago music scene. At Constellation the dimly lit bar is relaxing, you can bring drinks inside and enjoy them in the loft-like spaces, where musicians use the blank surroundings to make themselves at home. I enjoyed a crystal clear performance from Ólafur Arnalds at Constellation, the audience comfortably close to the performer and the dimly lit room made it feel like Arnalds invited you into his own practice space for a private set. If you want a relaxing evening with a nice drink and some smooth music, spend a night enjoying Constellation. — Lisa White
Constellation is located at 3111 N. Western Ave.
Red Line Tap
This Roger’s Park mainstay is under new ownership and the new guard is making a pretty nice push to bring in more touring acts to Red Line Tap. It’s still a lot of underground acts, but they’re some pretty good ones. Red Line Tap also boasts one of the more eclectic schedules we’ve seen for a venue. If you keep tabs on the schedule, chances are good that you might find something on there that will pique your interest. It’s a cozy venue, and it’s hard to escape anything your ears might find offensive, but they cheap beer. — Casey Moffitt
Red Line Tap is located at 7006 N. Glenwood Ave.
Yes, it’s in Berwyn. (BER-WYN??) But it’s easily accessible by car and a short walk from the Blue Line, and is easily the area’s epicenter for roots and Americana music. The main room maintains a roadhouse feel after over three decades in use, while Fitzgerald’s compound has expanded in recent years to include side rooms featuring acoustic folk and jazz combos. They’re all tied together for Fitzgerald’s annual American Music Festival, which is probably the best music festival you aren’t attending. — Chuck Sudo
Fitzgerald’s is located at 6615 Roosevelt Rd. in Berwyn.
The sound isn't great but the vibe more than makes up for it, and with over a hundred beers from around the world you can turn even the grungiest local show into a global affair. Throw in some free popcorn and Quencher's becomes one of my favorite go-tos for discovering under-the-radar music, along with the occasional set by bigger names rolling through town. It's a grab bag at times but the room's the right size to spark magic when the unexpected happens. — Jim Kopeny / Tankboy
Quencher's is located at 2401 N Western Ave.