As Robert Johnson said, Chicago is a "sweet home" for the blues. The emergence of blues culture in the Windy City began in the 1920s and coincided with a nationwide increase in musical performance and recording. This culture is alive and kicking today, and that's why we're taking you to five of Chicago's hottest blues bars.
Blue Chicago in the city's North River district has been a local favorite for over 12 years. For visitors, this is a great place to learn the story of Chicago blues. The walls of the club are adorned with the work of renowned artist John Carroll-Doyle and capture the spirit and history of the Chicago blues.
The club actually has 2 locations and between the 2 clubs you can hear blues musicians and vocalists every night of the week and one cover charge is good at both.
The New York Times calls Rosa's the best blues bar in Chicago and that's good enough for us. The bar is owned and operated by Tony, an Italian-born blues drummer who couldn't resist the pull of the Chicago blues scene. The bar's namesake is Tony's mother, who moved from Italy to Chicago with her son and still works behind the bar.
The family of blues performers that have taken to Rosa's stage include legends like David "Honeyboy" Edwards, Homesick James and Pinetop Perkins and Chicago blues modernists like Billy Branch, Melvin Taylor and Sugar Blue. Click here to see the full calendar of performers at Rosa's.
One more reason to spend at evening with Tony and Mama Rosa is the food. Experience authentic Italian dishes made with a mother's love. Book a private party at Rosa's Lounge and Mama Rosa will do the catering -- serving the house specialty Pasta Nonna, baked pasta with eggplants.
Lee's Unleaded Blues
On Chicago's Southside, Lee's Unleaded Blues is serving up authentic, old-school Chicago Blues. There are few concessions here -- the draw is the music, so pull up a stool at one of the two bars, and hang with the locals. The live shows begin promptly at 9 p.m., and the wireless microphones allow performers free range of the stage and club.
There's no cover at Lee's, but there's an easily met two-drink minimum. On Monday nights, there's often a soul-food buffet, so you might want to stroll in a little earlier than normal.
Open for 30 years and still going strong, Lee's is a favorite for music-loving Chicagoans. Music ranges from R&B to reggae and pure blues -- and the sounds only get bigger throughout the night, so come early and stay late.
Buddy Guy's Legends
Buddy Guy is a blues legend himself. A man crowned King of Chicago Electric Blues with over 50 years in the music business, Buddy is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and an idol to all guitar heroes. He opened Legends in June 1989, and since then his stage has been home to names like Van Morrison, Albert Collins, Bo Diddley, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Greg Allman and The Pointer Sisters. If you're a real Buddy Guy fan, then you'll want to head here in January during his annual block of concerts.
The menu features southern Cajun soul food that you can enjoy while taking in the amazing collection of guitars over the main bar -- signed by B.B. King, Carlos Santana, Eric Clapton, and Jimmy and Stevie Ray Vaughan. The bar area is the best place to hear the music, but be warned, it does have obstructed views.
With a front man like Buddy Guy, Legends is the place to hear some star-studded music.
Kingston Mines is the club that brought the blues to Chicago's North Side. It moved to its current location in 1980 after 20 years of operation and continues to nurture the Chicago blues culture. Music is played 7 nights a week here on two stages.
The main stage and north stage are continuously graced with some of the best in the business and on Thursday nights, early birds can enjoy an acoustic set.
The club also features the newly renovated Doc's Rib Joint, which serves up the city's best late-night barbecue. Come with some friends, and partake in the bar's nightly bucket-of-beer specials.
Another club on Chicago's North Side is B.L.U.E.S. In fact, on Sunday nights if you pay a cover at B.L.U.E.S. you can get into Kingston Mines for free. B.L.U.E.S. serves up local sounds 7 days a week.
The club's small tables create an intimate atmosphere and get packed on the weekends. You'll definitely make new friends and there's always the chance you'll share a drink with your favorite blues artist as they take in the scene at B.L.U.E.S.
If you've got friends in the area, bring them on Tuesday for Good Neighbor Night. Anyone who lives in zip codes 60614 and 60657 gets in for free.