Chicago's Best Dance Clubs: Places to Get Up and Get Down
By Megy Karydes
Chicago Local Expert
House music was born in Chicago when a new club called The Warehouse gave it its name. The Warehouse is no longer but the beats continue at a number of dance clubs around town. Chicago’s nightlife is hot ~ if you know where to go and sometimes it’s in the basement.
Smart Bar in Wrigleyville has been a destination for dance-partiers since 1982 and still holds its own with its rocking DJs while Lakeview’s Berlin harkens back to Belmont Ave’s longtime punk scene and simultaneously connects to the future. You may encounter drag queens, exotic dancers, and other controversial icons on the dance floor at this gay (super) friendly club (hint: don’t show up before midnight!).
River North’s Sound-Bar is made for dancing. Check out the upper areas for some of the best hip hop in the city. The Underground is one of Chicago’s favorite places to see and be seen. Be sure to dress to the nines at this exclusive club in River North where you’ll dance to beats dropped by a roster of internationally-known DJ’s. The Hangge-Uppe is a favorite casual late night spot in the Gold Coast where retro music meets top 40 and dance beats. It’s a funny mix between sports bar and dance club, so take it easy and enjoy dancing until 4:00am on most nights.
And if you’re not shy about going to the basement to party, head to Baby Atlas. It’s a dance party like you’ve never seen.
The Gold Coast area around Rush and Division is notorious for its clubs and pubs. Everywhere you look you'll see bars, many of them packed with people dressed to the nines and ready for a late night out. The Hangge-Uppe is open until 4:00am, so it serves as a hub for the late night contingent. A younger crowd shows up for the dancing and like many of the bars in this area, an older crowd shows up for the younger crowd. There are two levels, three dance floors (one playing tunes from the 50's-80's and the other pumping more modern tunes). Nightly specials sweeten the deal. ((312) 337-0561)
The ultra-hip, ultra-modern Sound-Bar is certainly the place to go for a wild night out. A star-studded list of resident DJs produce fresh bass lines throughout the sprawling, mulit-level 20,000 sq ft club and the scantily clad dancers keep things going all night long. Laser lights, projectors and flat-screen monitors complement the eight bars, two dance floors and upscale lounges to complete Sound-Bar's impressive repertoire. There usually is a cover but if you arrive early (before 11 p.m.), sometimes the cover is waived. Be forewarned: if you're coming here, don't expect to leave before morning! Luckily it's located in an area where a cab won't be hard to grab. (312-787-4480)
8 Matilda - Baby Atlas
Hold on the railings as you make your way slowly down the basement of Matilda's to find Baby Atlas. It's not a large space by any stretch of the imagination and the atmosphere is equally low-key but the DJs play a nice range of music to keep the dancing queens on their toys. Drinks are downright cheap and since the place is small, pretty easy to get service. Dancers dress up and dress down but none takes themselves too seriously. The goal is to hang out and enjoy the music rather than worry about being seen here. Head upstairs to enjoy food at Matilda's. (773.883.4400)
7 Castle Chicago
Located in an historical landmark building, Castle is surprisingly huge for a dance venue. It boasts four different spaces spanning five levels and 60,000 square feet. In addition to dance floors galore, it's one of the few Chicago spots that offers a full kitchen until 3 a.m. on Fridays and 4 a.m. on Saturdays. Located in the heart of Chicago's River North district (you can't miss the place, it's looks like a caste and it's huge), it attracts a younger crowd and a fair amount of out-of-town visitors. From Swedish progressive trance to local pride DJs, almost anything goes at Castle. (312-266-1944)
6 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 gypsy 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)
5 Empty Bottle
With atmosphere befitting a lounge or neighborhood pub, not to mention rock-bottom prices, this slightly dingy spot is a favorite with locals. Wednesday features avant-garde jazz, and Thursday through Saturday, local and national acts take over. Sunday is devoted to DJs. A small pool table and arcade area set behind the bar prove distracting to patrons, and a wonderful selection of beer and booze flows constantly. Earplugs are sold at the bar the place can get a little loud. If a show sells out, it may have tickets available at the door so it's smart to call ahead and ask. (773-276-3600)
4 The Hideout
Many people head to the Hideout Inn to see their favorite bands play on the small, intimate stage. That band may be Wilco (or Wilco karaoke), Chicago's thirty-two piece punk rock marching band Mucca Pazza, or The King of Blue Grass, Jimmy Martin and the Sunny Mountain Boys preceded by Kim, a punk rock trio of Korean-American girls. Seeing that band may make you want to kick your heels up, but did you know that on Saturday nights, The Hideout transforms into a fantastic dance floor? Music is the forte here, so the DJs are stellar. Check their website for the most up-to-date calendar of awesome events. ((773) 227-4433)
"Rolling Stone" magazine once named it "Best Dance Club" in Chicago for good reason. This intimate joint has two bars, a small dance floor with a tiny stage and bass cabinets that double as platforms for drag queens, exotic dancers, or fetish shows that perform on occasion. Video screens run "out there" reels that are put together by DJs. Music varies from new wave to house and the last Wednesday of the month is disco night. Not for the closed-minded as a mixed crowd prevails. Berlin is conveniently located just around the corner from Halsted Street and Chicago's Boystown neighborhood. (773-348-4975)
2 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)
1 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 décor, 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)
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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