Yes, you could go to a strip club; that's certainly one way to spend an evening. But if you’d rather not surround yourself with annoying DJs and questionable upholstery, burlesque is a great alternative to see some skin in a fun, low-pressure environment that you could actually bring a date to (not that we don’t know people who take first dates to strip clubs). Little known fact: Chicago is a huge burlesque town, and it's only getting bigger. Here’s how to get in on the action.
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Gorilla Tango at Gorilla Tango Theatre
When: Fridays at 10:30pm, and Saturdays at 9pm and 10:30pm
Gorilla Tango has been a crucial engine driving the massive growth of the Chicago burlesque scene in recent years, with an ever-expanding roster of deliciously naughty film- and TV-spoofing shows ranging from Game of Thongs: A Game of Thrones Burlesque and A Nude Hope: A Star Wars Burlesque to Ghostbusty: A Ghostbusters Burlesque and Holy Bouncing Boobies! A Batman Burlesque. GT is known for its humor and commitment to characters which, when you’re spoofing sci-fi, is as essential as taking your clothes off.
Vaudeville at Bordel
When: Fridays at 9pm(?)
The plush, red-velvet environs of Wicker Park’s secret speakeasy above Black Bull are tailor-made for burlesque, and every Friday things get weird when Vaudeville rolls in with a rotating cast of burlesque dancers, magicians, and palm/tarot readers. Peep tight bodies in tight leather outfits as they pop champagne bottles and twirl tassels, in between swallowing swords and piercing their breasts with needles. There are also fire eaters and Eyes Wide Shut masks, and, if you feel yourself getting a little faint, you can always order food from Black Bull’s menu (served late).
Kiss Kiss Cabaret at Uptown Underground
When: Every Wednesday at 8pm, and Friday/Saturday at 10pm
Kiss Kiss Cabaret dedicates itself to the art of the old-school burlesque show, titillating its audience with more than just the tease by throwing in a range of cabaret acts, from wisecracking hosts and bowling pin jugglers to musicians and balloon animal swallowers. The burlesque is classic yet hot, but don’t be surprised to see a dude with a pet monkey on his shoulder. Hey, it happens.
Burlesque at The Drifter
When: Whenever the hell they feel like it
As soon as you enter the tiny space of authentic Chicago speakeasy The Drifter, you know you’ve walked in on an intimate secret. With space for 37 souls and drinks on tarot cards in a throwback den below the Green Door Tavern (which was an actual speakeasy during Prohibition), the burlesque goes down quick and dirty with no announcement and no advance warning, on a small stage that makes it feel like the show is just for you. Members of the Chicago Starlets shake their stuff in between musicians and variety acts amidst vintage décor that will have you longing for the good old days of Prohibition. Almost.
Vaudezilla! at Stage 773
When: Saturdays (and sometimes Fridays) at 10:30pm
Red Hot Annie and her crew at Vaudezilla! seek to create an all-encompassing burlesque experience with fresh shows that change casts every week and new themes monthly. Accepting of all kinds and body types, Vaudezilla also helps ladies explore their sexuality at their studio with burlesque instruction courses ranging from “Nude Attitude” to “Boa Dancing.” The show is available for hire as well, so you can make your boss super uncomfortable at the next corporate retreat with a glorious rendition of the popular revue Rollin' Outta Here Naked: A Big Lebowski Burlesque.
Unbridled at Untitled
When: Thursdays 10pm
It’s no secret that international burlesque star (and self-styled “Most Naked Woman”) Michelle L’amour has one of the coolest jobs in Chicago. But when you combine that with one of Chicago’s top whiskey bars, and the best bar for live music in River North, you’ve got a serious party on your hands. And, unlike most burlesque shows around town, admission here is totally free. L’amour calls the weekly show Spectacle, which, naturally, means power sanders, freaky face paint, insane acrobats, etc. You've gotta see it for yourself.
No-Tell Motel at Debonair Social Club
When: Wednesdays at 10pm
Your Wednesday nights will never be the same after experiencing this long-running hump day extravaganza, heating up Wicker Park’s preeminent hipster dance club as burlesque dancers with names like Dizzy Lizzy find inventive new ways to work power sanders while slowly disrobing in the dark basement den of Debonair Social Club, which is revamped weekly to make it look like a French noir flophouse. It’s sort of like that movie Showgirls. Except instead of being "so bad it's good," it's just straight-up good.
Naughty Little Cabaret at Original Mothers
When: Every Saturday (and sometimes Friday) at 8pm
Burlesque ain’t just for the ladies, ladies. Dudes can get in on the act, too, as evidenced by Chicago’s only male burlesque and variety show. While featuring acts with awesome porn names like Bazuka Joe and Tommy Gunn, the show is less Magic Mike pelvic thrusts and more flirtatious teasing with dirty Sinatra-esque Emcee Rob Racine working the crowd alongside fire dancers, contortionists, classically trained dancers, and “pole artists.” Get in the mood with a game of tipsy Jenga or psychic session before the show.
The Original Tease at Lincoln Tap Room
When: Second Friday of the month at 9:30pm, 10:30pm, and 11:30 pm
Recently celebrating its third anniversary, this retro burlesque act gets back to the basics with classic showgirl promenades, high kicks, and the whipping of audience members with a feather fan. Local comic Adam Burke keeps the vibe light and inviting in a laid-back scene featuring some of the most well known dancers in local burlesque including Stella Cheeks and Donna Touch. Three shows a night means the drinks keeps flowing and the crowds stay rowdy.
Burlesco at Honky Tonk BBQ
When: Fourth Saturday of the month at 10pm
First, Honky Tonk BBQ infiltrated the Pilsen hipster scene with live country bands and standout brisket and mac & cheese. Now they’ve carved a place for themselves in the local burlesque arena with an eye-pleasing act of traditional burlesque soundtracked by ear-pleasing live music from Grit & the Double Knit. Expect a blues-heavy, sultry evening of hip swaying naughtiness punctuated by the risque knife play of “The World’s Most Dangerous Comic” Mark the Knife, with plenty of sauciness both onstage and off.
The Big Sexy Show at Comedy Bar Chicago
When: Saturdays at 11pm
Michelle L’amour continues her domination of the Chicago burlesque scene with this late-night cabaret show at Downtown’s only comedy club where comedy, burlesque, vaudeville, and music collide alongside a rotating cast of more than 50 performers. Located above Gino’s East, the place can get a little touristy but more than makes up for it with a fun, lighthearted show where portions of your ticket price go to fight Alzheimer’s. Turns out looking at boobies is the newest form of philanthropy!
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Jay Gentile is a Thrillist contributor and he is a little nervous to see the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man take it all off during Ghostbusters burlesque. Calm his nightmares @innerviewmag
1. Gorilla Tango Theatre1919 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago
2. Bordel1721 W Division St, Chicago
3. Uptown Underground4707 N Broadway, Chicago
4. The Drifter Chicago678 N. Orleans, Chicago
5. Stage 7731225 W Belmont Ave, Chicago
6. Untitled111 W Kinzie St, Chicago
7. Debonair Social Club1575 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago
8. Mother's26 W Division St, Chicago
9. Lincoln Tap Room3010 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago
10. Honky Tonk BBQ1800 S Racine Ave, Chicago
11. The Comedy Bar500 N La Salle Dr, Chicago
Gorilla Tango Theater performs hilarious live theatrical entertainment, including its popular parody burlesque shows. It’s got an ever-expanding roster of deliciously naughty film- and TV-spoofing shows (Game of Thongs: A Game of Thrones Burlesque, A Nude Hope: A Star Wars Burlesque, and more). GTT is known for its humor and commitment to characters which, when you’re spoofing sci-fi, is as essential as taking your clothes off.
Bordel remains a charming cocktail lounge that stands firmly against the soul-crushing waves of party buses, thanks to the second-story establishment's unmarked door. Once inside, visitors can expect classic cocktails, table service that serves up booze in a tea set, and live performances that range from burlesque to flamenco dancing.
Uptown Underground is a speakeasy-themed club in a warehouse-like space with a large main stage and intimate lounge. The place is decked with handsome chandeliers, vintage posters of burlesque stars, and still functioning arcade games from the 1920s. The nightclub's entertainment schedule is jam-packed six nights a week with all sorts of surprising, intriguing and provocative acts, but the flagship show is “The Kiss Kiss Cabaret,” a sort of burlesque/comedy/variety show that can feature stripteases, bawdy jokesters, bowling pin jugglers, balloon animal swallowers, pet monkeys and ... almost anything.
The Drifter is an intimate basement-level former speakeasy/cocktail bar with eccentric nightly entertainment and a tarot card-inspired cocktail menu. Located below the Green Door Tavern (which was an actual speakeasy during Prohibition), its burlesque shows goes down quick and dirty with no announcement and no advance warning on a small stage that makes it feel like the show is just for you. Members of the Chicago Starlets shake their stuff in between musicians and variety acts amidst charming, vintage décor.
Located in the Belmont Theatre District, Stage 773 is a performance and tenant venue providing entertainment on four stages. Shows include comedy, theatre, dance, and musical presentations (including burlesque!). The not-for-profit showcases established and up-and-coming artists alike. Check out its three annual events: The Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival, Women’s Funny Festival, and Nerd Comedy Festival.
Tucked behind inconspicuous doors that are literally untitled, this lounge is a nod to the Prohibition-era supper clubs, featuring libations, small American bites and a stage where acts range from Motown and funk to local bands and DJs. Untitled is one of Chicago’s top whiskey bars, and undoubtably the best bar for live music in River North. Check out its weekly burlesque show—admission is totally free!
Located in the historic Flat Iron Building, Debonair Social Club is a spirited bar and “video” performance venue offering live shows by bands, DJs and burlesque dancers. A color-changing lightbox fills the wall behind a stage that doubles as a dance floor, and half dozen projectors placed around the venue constantly screen specially made videos arranged by Debonair's artistic curator. Downstairs sexes it up with incredibly low lighting and an LED light-lined perimeter.
Original Mothers is a long-running club (and notorious singles spot) with a stylish front room and huge back dancing arena. OM hosts Chicago’s only male burlesque and variety show, which is less Magic Mike pelvic thrusts and more flirtatious teasing from fire dancers, contortionists, classically trained dancers, and “pole artists.” Get in the mood with a game of tipsy Jenga or psychic session before the show.
A Chicago original, the Lincoln Tap Room in Lakeview has an impressive retro ambiance with a pool table, darts, jukebox, photo booth, board games, and even a vintage cigarette machine. With plenty of beers on tap and a fully stocked liquor shelf, it's safe to assume you could spend an entire extremely happy day at this bar. Reserving the back area will get you plenty of tables and comfy seating, and they're super cool with you bringing in food. Check out its monthly burlesque show with back-to-the-basic classic showgirl promenades, high kicks, and the whipping of audience members with a feather fan.
Honky Tonk BBQ infiltrated the Pilsen hipster scene with live country bands and Southern-style comfort food, including standout brisket and mac and cheese. But the rustic eatery offers more than just hearty plates: HT has also made a name for itself in the burlesque arena with an eye-pleasing act of traditional burlesque, soundtracked by ear-pleasing live, local music.
Comedy Bar Chicago is Downtown’s only club where comedy, burlesque, vaudeville, and music collide alongside a rotating cast of more than 50 performers. Located above Gino’s East pizzeria, the place can get a little touristy, but don’t let that stop you from checking out the local and national talent it hosts. There’s at least one show going on five nights a week, and each is pretty inexpensive.