Best Early Entertainment in Chicago

Chicago's Entertainment Scene Is Just as Happening before Dark

Chicago has a very active live entertainment scene and while most of it happens after dark, there are plenty of options for those who prefer earlier time slots. Venues offer everything from family-friendly live entertainment to acts that are for those 21 or older. 

Music fans will appreciate the earlier show times at the Old Town School of Folk Music, Schuba’s or at Martyrs’. Nearby cities like Evanston has Evanston SPACE and Berwyn has FitzGerald’s, both of which let guests enjoy early live musical entertainment and some of which don’t require a cover charge.

Spots like The Hideout have a range of entertainment from live music to literary readings. Kids and adults will appreciate the Beat Kitchen’s early weekend afternoon School of Rock Chicago which allows kids 10 or younger in free with a paying adult.

Chicago is a comedy town, too, which is why fans of The Second City will appreciate the fact that shows happen earlier in the evenings (as well as late) and early afternoons on weekends to accommodate schedules.

The best part of enjoying entertainment earlier in the evening is that parents can get back home at a decent hour, you can usually fit something else in later in the evening or have time to enjoy dinner or cocktails with friends afterward. 


The venue is a mix of seating and standing room only, but even when it's packed it can be a lot of fun to hear live music. From some of the biggest names in folk to jazz, big band, country, blues, rock and open mics, this off the beaten path (it's in Berwyn) venue often gets overlooked because it's not within the city. Public transportation is nearby (it's six block from the Forest Park blue line stop at Oak Park Avenue) but there are also parking spots nearby for those who prefer to drive. It doesn't serve food so hit up a nearby restaurant first if you're hungry. The bartenders are attentive and drinks are very reasonable. An outside patio with chairs and tables makes it easy to take a break.

Recommended for Early Entertainment because: Great place to hear a wide rage of music genres from the biggest names in folk to jazz, big band, country, blues and rock.

Megy's expert tip: Order from its impressive list of inexpensive beers on tap.

Read more about FitzGerald's Nightclub →

North Center

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'.

Recommended for Early Entertainment because: Most shows begin around 8pm, some sooner and some later, but the venue is great for live musical shows.

Megy's expert tip: If you like Cape Codders (cranberry vodkas), order one here as they are generous in size.

Read more about Martyrs' →

Roscoe Village

Not always the first place people think about when looking for live music in Chicago, Beat Kitchen deserves a mention because it books some great bands and the smallness of the venue makes it easy to get up close and personal with the musicians (capacity is under 300 and sight lines are terrific). The front part is a restaurant/bar with a great beer and solid food menu and the back is where the music happens in a dark room with a funky vibe. Enjoy a nice meal outdoors on its large patio area (arrive before 7pm if you don't want to wait). Plenty of street parking for cars and spots for bicycles, too.

Recommended for Early Entertainment because: School of Rock Chicago allows kids 10 or younger in free with a paying adult.

Megy's expert tip: Venue accepts only cash.

Read more about Beat Kitchen →


While many people prefer to enjoy live music in more intimate settings, the Riv, as locals call the Riviera Theatre, is great for really large crowds as the amphitheater fits around 2,500 people. Most of the complaints from concertgoers stem from the house itself since it's seen better days but if you can get past the grittiness (although some people admit that they like the vibe, too), the Riv books some outstanding bands. Located in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood, it's pretty accessible by car or public transportation just keep in mind that if tickets call for a band to start at a certain time, they will go on at that time so don't be late.

Recommended for Early Entertainment because: Most shows begin around 7pm or 8pm and some are all ages shows.

Megy's expert tip: Get your bathroom break in early as the restrooms are all the way in the basement and may or may not be clean. Take a bottle of sanitizer with you. You may need it. And maybe toilet paper. In fact, just don't go to the bathroom if you don't really need to ~ enjoy the music instead.

Read more about Riviera Theatre →

Lincoln Park

Small enough yet large enough venue to enjoy great bands. Fans love the intimacy yet never feel it's too crowded to see and hear the band because of the great acoustics and sight lines from both the main level and upstairs. Aside from the amazing and variety of talent that regularly plays, drinks (which include a good draft list) are reasonable and inexpensive parking can be scored nearby. It's also near the Fullerton Red/Purple/Brown elevated train station. Local restaurants (many of which are BYOB) make it easy to get a nice meal before you head to the show. Tickets sell out quickly so be sure to order them online before arriving so you're not disappointed. Many shows start around 10pm but there are plenty that begin at 7:30pm and 8:00pm throughout the month.

Recommended for Early Entertainment because: While most live musical shows start at 10pm, there are plenty that begin as early as 7:30 and 8:00 pm throughout the month.

Megy's expert tip: In 1934, the Feds were posted atop (what is is now) Lincoln Hall to make sure one John Dillinger did not escape from the Biograph Theatre across the street.

Read more about Lincoln Hall →

Located in a refurbished historical building, this Lakeview pub is a great neighborhood hangout. The bar is made of rich mahogany and the ceiling of tin. Live music is performed here most nights, featuring a variety of sounds from honky-tonk to jazz and pop. The Harmony Grill is adjacent which offer its signature home-cooked American regional cuisine and seasonal specials in its full-service kitchen and 80-seat dining room. The venue is located within walking distance of the Belmont Belmont Red/Purple/Brown line el train stop and the #77 Belmont bus stop at Southport Avenue but sometimes you can find parking on the street or nearby parking lot. Most of the shows are for those over 21 but it does host a Family Series throughout the year.

Recommended for Early Entertainment because: Most of the shows are for those over 21 but it does host a Family Series throughout the year.

Megy's expert tip: Head to the sidewalk cafe to enjoy food from the adjacent restaurant before hitting up a show.

Read more about Schubas Tavern and the Harmony Grill →

Who better to design a space to play than musicians themselves? That was the goal when creating SPACE (which stands for Society for the Preservation of Art & Culture) located just north of Chicago in Evanston. Every part of the venue, from the aesthetics to the audio and lighting technology, was designed to allow for great creative expression. The result is sound that keeps musicians and fans coming back, sight lines that allow everyone to enjoy the show and no seats that are more than 40 feet from the stage which allow a level of intimacy rarely found these days. It does have a nice menu of beers, wine, mixed drinks and specialty cocktails as well as non-alcoholic soft drinks.

Recommended for Early Entertainment because: With no seat more than 40 feet from the stage, you get an up close and personal experience at the shows.

Megy's expert tip: Order a pizza from Union Pizzeria, the restaurant in front of the building, and bring it with you to the show. Only pizza from this restaurant is permitted.

Read more about Evanston SPACE →

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.

Recommended for Early Entertainment because: Old Town School of Folk Music lets you enjoy live music in an intimate concert hall setting.

Megy's expert tip: While it offers beer, wine and snacks for decent prices, venue only accepts cash and the building does not have a cash station. Head to nearby The Grafton for The Daley for a drink before or after the show if you're short on cash.

Read more about Old Town School of Folk Music →

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.

Recommended for Early Entertainment because: The Second City has launched some of the biggest names in the business including Tina Fey and Dan Aykroyd.

Megy's expert tip: Leave the kids at home.

Read more about Second City →


Meet 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...  More About Megy