Chicago has one of the nation's finest symphony orchestras, a world-class opera company and a hit Broadway musical named after it. Yet in its heart, this is a blues town, a jazz town, an ethnic music and folkie town -- and it rocks. Here's where.
A Lincoln Park favorite since 1968 (1980, in its current home), Kingston Mines features 2 stages offering great blues, with food on the side.
Across the street from Kingston Mines, B.L.U.E.S. is a smallish, long and narrow bar that, especially on uncrowded weeknights, lets you feel as blue as the folks onstage -- and if you like, talk music with them between sets.
In River North, Blue Chicago delights visitors leaving the district's upscale restaurants and looking for a way to finish off the evening with a classic Chicago dessert.
Buddy Guy's Legends
Blues lovers should also swing by Buddy Guy's Legends. He's rarely in residence at his downtown club (look for him in January), but the blues are, and nightly.
Chief O'Neill's Pub
Gloriously, authentically and aggressively Irish, with all the pub grub a purist would insist upon -- plus a Sunday brunch that brings crowds and raves, this Northwest Sider is at its best on evenings when live music (Irish, of course) adds to the already thickly Gaelic ambience.
An iconic hangout for lovers of punk rock and punk rockers, the music is recorded only, with DJs on duty most nights. But the Lincoln Park hangout is equally renowned for its selection of whiskeys, more than 400 from all over. So if you hate the music, the whiskeys will help you ignore it -- or change your mind.
Andy's is a couple of blocks west of Michigan Avenue behind the Wrigley Building. It's a full-service restaurant (steaks, ribs, seafood, etc.), but for more than 30 years its prime fare has been live jazz, 7 nights a week. The club is comfortable, and so is the music.
Though the Jazz Showcase has operated in more locations since 1947 than anyone can remember, the true greats (Charlie, Dizzy, Miles) have always found a way to get here. So have lovers of pure jazz.
The first challenge is finding this place, an ancient, outlaw kind of shack-bar tucked among industrial buildings near the Bucktown and Wicker Park neighborhoods and belonging to neither. Bluegrass, punk, gospel, jazz and no-category music coexist, drawing regulars and strangers who don't care what's playing as long as it plays. No wonder people love it.
Reggies' Rock Club/Reggies' Music Joint
Paired in the South Loop a couple of blocks east of Chinatown, the Joint welcomes the 21-plus crowd. The Club is either 17-plus or all ages depending on the booking, and the music rocks -- loudly, most of the time -- at both.
The Kinetic Playground
This club, in the heart of Uptown's ever-changing scene, offers an appropriately ever-changing musical mix -- folk one night, rock (pick a flavor) another, African another, jazz another, with an emphasis on local talent. Plus, there's a dance floor.
Green Mill Jazz Club
Travelers will have 2 big reasons to come here. First, the bar, a short walk from the very dissimilar Kinetic Playground, looks about like it did when Capone drank his own illegal hooch here. Second, the music -- mostly jazz -- fits the room. There's lots of history: Machine Gun Jack McGurn owned a piece of the joint.
A country music dive bar, Carol's is a throwback. To exactly when -- to Chicago's long-gone "prairie farmer" past or to the 1970s when a wave of Appalachian migrants settled in the neighborhood -- is a matter of perspective (most would choose the latter). It doesn't matter. It features live Southern sounds on Chicago’s North Side.
Schubas is a century-old North Side saloon, still charming after all these decades, with a backroom (once a "community room" available for wakes) perfectly suited for the variety of music performed here, from honky-tonk to indie rock, with pop, country, American and jazz in between. Expect anything, and expect it nightly.
Travel writer Alan Solomon likes his jazz mellow, his rock hard, his blues raunchy and his Irish weepy.