Chicago has oodles of music venues. I don’t want to say that it’s too many to count because that’s not true. I just don’t want to go to the trouble to try and count them. Music is a very important part of the Chicago social fabric, maybe even more than most realize. Lollapalooza and Pitchfork are two very large music festivals that a lot of people know about. I am certainly aware of Pitchfork, for a few reasons:
a. It’s the weekend of strange traffic hazards with fixeys and empty PBR cans replacing cabs and potholes as the biggest threats.
b. Government stats show that, worldwide, half of all flannel shirts worn in the blazing heat of summer are donned by pitchfork festival-goers.
c. At night during the festival, the bars around Division Street are all packed beyond belief, but don’t actually produce much in sales.
But really this post is not about big festivals. Everyone knows about those. This post is about the little hole-in-the-wall places that dot the city. I have played in a band at every one of the following establishments. If you have a friend that bugs you to go see their band around town (sound familiar?) this will give you a good idea about the venue quality.
You can’t go too wrong with the following four venues. As one of my band members said: “(Double Door, Bottom Lounge and Beat Kitchen) have great sound systems, good show management, good hospitality, and promotion. Martyrs has the nicest stage and has maybe the most comfortable setting to watch a live show.”
1. The Double Door – this is one of the best places to see a show in Chicago. It’s big, but not too big. The beer selection is pretty good. The sound system is great and they have dressing rooms (albeit disgusting ones). Plus, there is great nightlife all around the location and it’s right off an EL stop.
2. Bottom Lounge – similar to Double Door, but it is much cleaner and newer and has food. The main bar is separated from the main concert area. However, the location is kind of isolated.
3. Beat Kitchen – it’s somewhere between Double Door and Bottom Lounge in most respects. It’s cleaner than Double Door, but not as clean as Bottom Lounge and the location is good, but not on the level of Double Door. Reasonable beer selection.
4. Martyr’s – as alluded to above it’s a place with a great stage and sound setup and a comfortable atmosphere. The beer selection is good, too.
The following four places have some flaws that make them less-than-ideal for music:
1. Elbo Room – this could be an awesome venue. It feels just like one of the starter venues in Guitar Hero. It’s unashamedly in a basement and it has a sense of history. However, the sound technicians are inconsistent and because of the setup, the sound is almost always kind of muddy (I could explain why, but it would bore most people).
2. Phyllis’ Musical Inn – the sound system leaves a lot to be desired and the stage area is small and enclosed. Really, this venue would only be good for a band that plays covers late at night and is trying to reign in some of the inebriated people walking by.
3. Tonic Room – it is in a great location, but with a weird setup for watching a band. The bands are right at the front of the room with a very small stage. It could work for a “crowd participation” band, but it mostly seems like a place that should stick to acoustic performances.
4. US Beer Co. – this is a very strange venue. In spite of the name, there isn’t that much beer to choose from and the stage is set up on one of the side walls. The space is really long and narrow, so the bands play to another wall. It’s super loud right in front of the band, but hard to hear everywhere else.
Hopefully this helps if you are going to try to find the next big band from Chicago and maybe (but highly unlikely) the next venue post will review the facilities at Allstate, the United Center, etc…