Nightlife isn’t narrowly defined in Chicago as just a dance club or bar. While that scene might appeal to some, there is also a host of other after hour options for both locals and visitors including comedy clubs, live musical performances and even theatrical acts.
We offer a carefully vetted selection to let you explore Chicago nightlife on your own. Closer to downtown Chicago are Studio Paris Nightclub in the River North neighborhood where you can dine on classic French cuisine at Paris Club before the club opens its doors at 10 pm on the rooftop. Not far is The Underground Chicago, one of the city’s hottest dance clubs.
Just north of downtown is Second City which is best known for launching some of the biggest names in the business including Tina Fey and Dan Aykroyd. Performances occur throughout the day with 11pm shows as an option on some evenings.
For more lounge experience than loud music clubs, head to sultry Violet Hour in Wicker Park, Green Mill Cocktail Lounge for some smooth jazz or Rosa’s Lounge for blues.
A variety of live musical performances are on the playlist at spots like Martyrs’, Abbey Pub and perennial favorite: Old Town School of Folk Music.
These places promise a stellar experience and a taste of the city that you just can't miss.
10 Smart Bar
A dance club with less posh, more punk. If you want a place that gets you dancing, look no further. The DJ spins a mix of techno, rave, funk, house and well, anything you can dance to. Expect an alternative mix of clientele. Located in Chicago's Wrigleyville neighborhood (also home of Wrigley Field), it's the kind of spot where designer jeans aren't necessary. Since developing a relationship with popular concert venue The Metro (conveniently located upstairs), Smart Bar hosts rock and dance fans alike allowing for award-winning co-mingling, co-rocking, and co-getting down. Just come ready to dance the night away. Smart Bar is open from 10p.m. until 4a.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays and until 5a.m. on Saturdays. (773-549-0203)
9 Abbey Pub & Restaurant
This Irish pub has been garnering an increasingly steady following since its opening in 1973. The pub is part restaurant, part club as it features a full menu of authentic Irish food (fish and chips, shepherd's pie and Irish sausage) as well as live music nightly. The best local, regional and national acts perform on Abbey's stage and the musical mix includes everything from Indie Rock, to bluegrass to traditional Celtic music. The interior features balcony seating, warm wood floors and stone walls. Cover charge starts at $6 depending on the musical act. Expect specials every day of the week on beer and food. (773-478-4408)
8 Old Town School of Folk Music
An intimate concert hall, it has a cool lounge feel with its wide cushioned and very comfortable seats. While some might cringe to be seated in nosebleeds, there really isn't a bad seat in the theater as it was built by musicians for musicians. Ticket prices are extremely reasonable and even more so if you're a member. Parking is available across the street in a lot or along the street (both are metered). Don't let the name of the place fool you -- you can hear everything from folk music to world music and even kids can enjoy live music during the Kids' Concerts series. ((773) 728-6000)
7 Second City
The world's premier comedy troupe, The Second City has launched some of the biggest names in the business. You may have heard of them: Gilda Ratner, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Mike Myers, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey and about 500 others. The Second City imprint is felt across every entertainment medium. Since its creation in 1959, the show claimed Old Town its home when the founders wanted a theater to practice their own, Chicago-style routine of sketch and improv. The small audience gets an intimate vibe; half theater, half comedy lounge. Expect bits that cover all facets of societal satire and of course, long running jokes. (312-337-3992, 312-664-4032)
6 Rosa's Lounge
Remember those places where the musicians just want to play to people who love to hear their music? Rosa's Lounge is that kind of place. No frills, just a classic joint to hear great live blues without the unnecessary pretentiousness of a club-like atmosphere. Visitors grab a drink and let themselves enjoy the music and the diverse crowd that flocks to this place to hear the likes of Sugar Blue and Billy Branch & the SOB. There is a cover charge and full service bar to meet guests' needs (no drink minimum). Tony, the friendly owner who named the place after his mother who helped him open the club, still takes care of his guests every night. (773-342-0452)
5 Paris Club
It's French bistro by day, nightclub after dark. On weekdays the kitchen serves classic French dishes in the warmly decorated restaurant until midnight. The rooftop of lounge Paris Club turns into a glossy nightclub at 10pm. Be seen sipping champagne and be photographed at Studio Paris. It appears their collection will be adorning the wall. With a hint of Mediterranean, the breathable space allows great live music. Retractable glass keeps the lounge open all seasons. Studip Paris Nightclub has hosted some of the biggest names in electronic music including Tiesto, DeadMau5, Avicii, Kaskade and Calvin Harris in a space that reminds you of an exclusive cocktail lounge rather than the traditional dance club scene. ((312) 595-0800)
Martyrs' features a musical lineup that is all over the board: a broad mix of genres from traditional bluegrass bands to improvised hip-hop, reggae funk and jazz. Equally impressive is the diverse and fun crowd. You won't feel out of place here since everyone feels welcomed. The venue itself is great gets rave reviews for its acoustics but definitely has a dive bar feel to it. People don't come for the aesthetics. Since there aren't many tables, it makes it hard to eat although food service is available. The entertainment is definitely the draw so if great live music is what you crave, head to Martyrs'. ((773) 404-9494)
3 The Underground Chicago
Underground shut down for six months in early 2013 to undergo extensive renovations, opening up again in August to a hot new look that's complete with fresh interiors, newly exposed spaces, sleek d�cor, updated tech elements and an elevated food and beverage program. The hot club attracts a rotating guest list of who's who of Chicago notables, celebrities, international DJs and celebrity live acts - including Katy Perry, John Mayer, Kanye West and more. Recent celebrity sightings include Robin Thicke, Aaron Paul (from Breaking Bad), Lil John, Sophia Bush, Samantha Ronson, Nick Cannon, Michelle Williams (of Destiny's Child), Joakim Noah, Lance Briggs, Michael Bay and Michael Shannon. Underground has two unique spaces to entertain: The Club offers a higher-energy, more modern club vibe while The Lounge has an old-school, upscale lounge vibe feel complete with plush seating with funky patterns, rich woods, swanky music and a one-of-a-kind groundbreaking mixology bar. (312.943.7600)
2 Green Mill Cocktail Lounge
Trendy folks and jazz aficionados regularly flock to this cool joint. Once a hangout of Al Capone, Charlie Chaplin and Gloria Swanson, the place has tons of character. It was also a speakeasy during Prohibition, meaning that Green Mill retains a past-days air of the Roaring '20s. Swing music is offered Tuesday and Thursday, Wednesday night is their gyspy jazz band although jazz crops up almost nightly, and Sunday features poetry slams. Cocktails are inexpensive but if you want to enjoy them from a table, get there early and definitely before the bands go on otherwise you'll be out of luck because this place gets packed. (773-878-5552)
1 Violet Hour
Don't let the outdoor décor fool you. It's boarded up and one friend wondered if anything was even inside. Once you (after a long wait in a line outside, most likely), you enter through heavy velvet curtains and into a dark cocktail lounge. Settle into one of the comfy seats where the back seem to touch the ceiling and order from the lengthy cocktail menu (warning: the drinks are strong). The lounge is lit only by the candles on your small table and dimly lit chandeliers which adds to the romantic ambiance. Be sure to check out the website and familiarize yourself with the "house rules" before arriving. ((773) 252-1500)
About Megy Karydes
Megy Karydes has spent more than 20 years as a professional writer and most of her life in Chicago. While she’s traveled extensively internationally, visiting each of the 50 states is on her bucket list.
An adventure seeker, she’s game for anything from mixed martial arts training to competing in obstacle course races. A self-proclaimed coffee snob and “greenie” who loves farmer-grown food and locally-grown craft beers & wine. She’s yet to find an outdoor beer garden she doesn’t like.
Mixing writing and food/drink is her specialty, especially when it involves travel.
Visit her musings on her insatiable appetite for life at www.WanderingTastes.com or www.KarydesConsulting.com.
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