The Abbey (address and info)

Live music: Nightly
The Abbey ain’t what it once was, but it's still a good spot to catch up-and-coming local acts, as well as a few gems thrown in every now and then, like heavy instrumental rockers Russian Circles. Also, Suicide Girls Burlesque. Not really live music. But still...

Gold Coast

Zebra Lounge (address and info)

Live music: Nightly
You won’t find hipsters with ironic mustaches at this hidden gem, which is located at the bottom of an apartment complex. You will find a diverse crowd from partying college kids to (partying) old-timers signing cheesy piano tunes and loving every minute of it.

Flickr/Laurie Chipps

Humboldt Park

California Clipper (address and info)

Live Music: Nightly
The Clipper has always been known for diverse acts, and while the lineup has skewed slightly more jazz/alt-country as of late, there’s no finer spot to belly up with a cocktail and take in some music. DJ acts like Wilco’s John Stirratt are also a welcome new addition.

Flickr/david loomer


Schubas Tavern (address and info)

Live music: Nightly
Schubas is one of the coolest bars in the 'hood. But behind the nondescript wooden doors in the back, the cozy little Schlitz bar opens up to reveal one of the finest rooms in the city for indie rock. Its January Tomorrow Never Knows Fest with sister venue Lincoln Hall is also not to be missed.

Flickr/Jamie Bernstein

Lincoln Park

Lincoln Hall (address and info)

Live music: Nightly
Strong bookings have Lincoln Hall in the running for best venue in the city, giving long-established spots like Metro a run for their money thanks to an always-reliable calendar of acts too big for Empty Bottle but too small for Metro. In other words, it's the perfect I-saw-them-before-they-got-big spot.

Flickr/Jamie Bernstein

Logan Square

The Burlington (address and info)

Live music: Nightly
If you have a fear of hipsters, this may not be the place for you. If, however, you measure your self-worth in your PBR daily consumption rate, welcome to your new home. You’ve never heard of any of the bands, but that’s okay. No one else has either (despite what they try to tell you).

Lincoln Square

Old Town School of Folk Music (address and info)

Live music: Nightly
For more of a classy theater vibe instead of the typical dive bar feel, Old Town School of Folk can be counted on for bands you can safely take your parents to see, including established rock acts like Craig Finn of the Hold Steady and what is easily the finest collection of world music acts in the city.

Flickr/Seth Tisue

Noble Square

The Hideout (address and info)

Live music: Regularly (several times a week)
Surrounded by industrial buildings and a Home Depot, the Hideout is simply that: a tucked-away dive haven for drinking on picnic tables and getting cozy for tunes in the wood-paneled back room (that can even draw surprisingly big names on occasion). It's recently expanded to a second location Downtown along the riverfront, which looks to replicate the local, low-key vibe of the Noble Square space.


Thalia Hall (address and info)

Live music: Regularly (several times a week)
One of the newest additions to the live music scene is also one of the best, as Bruce Finkelman (of Empty Bottle/Longman & Eagle) and co’s revamp of this historic theater sets the stage for a regular rotation of must-see acts, from dance punk icons Gang of Four to chillwave enthusiasts Neon Indian and artsy freakout weirdos Deerhunter.

River North

Untitled (address and info)

Live music: Wed-Sat
We’re gonna go slightly off script, and instead of selecting House of Blues (really cool venue, really uncool security), we’re going with this meathead-free speakeasy where the music may not always be as good, but you’re definitely gonna have a better time. Acts range from Motown and funk to local bands and DJs.


Rogers Park

Red Line Tap (address and info)

Live music: Nightly
Red Line Tap is a fun, laid-back dive bar where the names of local bands are almost as fun as the names of the drinks (Raspberry Queef, Redneck Julep). Combined with excellent food at next-door sister restaurant Heartland Café, the pair makes for one of Rogers Park’s finest under-the-radar destinations.

Flickr/Jamie Bernstein

Roscoe Village

Beat Kitchen (address and info)

Live music: Nightly
Like Schubas, Beat Kitchen would be a cool bar in its own right. But in back it's setting up shop with a steady diet of local bands, as well as live comedy, and the occasional bigger act like Lydia Loveless thrown in for good measure.


South Loop

Reggies (address and info)

Live music: Nightly
With all due respect to Buddy Guy’s Legends, the South Loop music scene is dominated by this punk powerhouse where it’s basically Riot Fest every night. Throw in a killer rooftop patio, great bar food, and bus trips to Bears games, and you’ve got quite an evening of mischief on your hands.


Ukrainian Village

Empty Bottle (address and info)

Live music: Nightly
Every band you’ve ever heard of played the Empty Bottle before they got big (okay, maybe not One Direction). But Arcade Fire, The Flaming Lips, The White Stripes, The Black Keys, The Strokes, Interpol... the list is endless. If you get there early, you might even end up shooting stick with the band before their set.

Flickr/steve janowski


Green Mill (address and info)

Live music: Nightly
In Chicago’s preeminent live music neighborhood, featuring the city’s biggest venues (Aragon, Riviera) and awesome music dives like Carol’s Pub, Green Mill still handily wins this one considering it's one of the finest jazz clubs in the country (if not the world). Just ask one Alphonse G. Capone. We hear he was a fan.

Flickr/Jamie Bernstein

West Loop

Bottom Lounge (address and info)

Live music: Nightly
This one is a toss-up between punk clubs Bottom Lounge and nearby Cobra Lounge situated on the outskirts of the West Loop, but BL gets the nod thanks to a more diverse calendar that, in addition to punk, keeps things interesting with rock acts like The Strokes’ Albert Hammond Jr., jam bands such as The Werks, and hip-hop acts including Ja Rule. 

Wicker Park

Subterranean (address and info)

Live music: Nightly
Tough call here between Subt and the nearby Double Door, but Subt gets the slight nod thanks to its ability to book bigger acts like Built to Spill and King Khan & the BBQ Show in addition to its usual lineup of indie bands and people craning their neck trying to see the stage from the balcony.

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Jay Gentile is a Thrillist contributor who may or may not have been thrown out of one or more of these venues. Follow him: @innerviewmag.