AOL PICK from our Editors
Visitors looking for the best Chicago nightlife often end up (tragically, we feel) in one of two areas. Either they head to what locals call the Viagra Triangle—the downtown area bounded by Chicago Avenue, Rush Street and State Street that teems with wealthy older men and the pretty, tipsy young women they’re trying to impress—or to Wrigleyville, home of a thousand identical sports bars and 10 times that many drunken baseball fans. If either of those is your scene, well, you’re in luck. But if not, you’ll be glad to hear that plenty of other, more interesting options abound elsewhere in the city. In fact, top Chicago nightlife is everywhere: For dance-till-you-drop music and frou-frou drinks, head to Boystown, Lincoln Park or River North. For more laid-back neighborhood bars where you can play a friendly game of pool or just play the jukebox, Andersonville, Uptown or Rogers Park are your best bets. And for tucked-away gems where you can hear fantastic music in small spaces, we recommend Wicker Park or Lincoln Square. In general, Chicago nightlife doesn’t heat up till 10PM. Things start to die down around 2AM, though a few bars stay open till 3 or 4. By city ordinance, all Chicago bars and clubs are smoke-free.
Neighborhood: Wicker Park
Parked in what looks like a deserted alley, the Hideout is one of the best small music venues in the city—not because of the acoustics (though they’re good), but because this down-to-earth bar attracts fantastic alt-country, jazz, bluegrass and other acts that defy labels. And because, as corny as it sounds, the people who own and run the place have managed to create what feels like a genuinely close-knit community, one where the person stamping your hand at the door might reappear later on stage with a guitar. Count yourself extra-lucky if you happen in on a night when locally famous musicians Robbie Fulks, Kelly Hogan or Nora O’Connor are playing. Finding the Hideout takes some doing for first-timers, so see the website for precise directions.
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Neighborhood: Wicker Park
Almost immediately after its opening in 2007, this speakeasy-style bar gained a cult following. Maybe it’s the classic cocktails, made with infinite precision; even the ice in them is made with twice-filtered water. Maybe it’s the fact that you’ll never find yourself standing awkwardly at the bar, since the doorman won’t let more customers in once the seats fill up. Or maybe it’s the aura of exclusivity lent by the absence of a sign outside (just look for the yellow light).
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Blues clubs are much scarcer on the ground here than they used to be in the 1950s and 1960s, and some say tourists have killed any authenticity in the ones that remain. But for at least a glimpse of what the Chicago blues scene was like during its heyday, head to Lee’s Unleaded Blues, in the South Side neighborhood of Chatham. Though Lee’s isn’t exactly undiscovered—it’s been featured in National Geographic—you can still catch some great acts here for a mere $5 cover charge. It’s a tiny room, but that doesn’t stop anyone from dancing. (Note: While Chatham is relatively safe compared to the rest of the South Side, we don’t recommend going here alone after dark.)
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Neighborhood: River North
If you need the complete nightclub experience—velvet ropes, bossy doormen, bottle service, celebrity sightings and throbbing hip-hop beats—this is it. The theme seems to be “sexed-up military,” with lots of exposed concrete and waitresses in skimpy fatigues. To enhance your chances of getting in, dress to the nines and bring girlfriends with you; the club tries to maintain a 70/30 or so girl/guy ratio. If you’d like to experience the Underground when the attitude factor is a little less intense, cruise in on a weeknight.
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If all you want to do is dance, dance, dance, and you aren’t picky who you do it with, Berlin is for you, as long as you’re neither claustro- nor homophobic. This club in the city’s biggest gay neighborhood, Boystown, attracts a diverse crowd, and we do mean “crowd.” If you get groped here, it might be someone hitting on you, or it might be someone just trying to get to the bathroom. Expect grinding beats, great DJs, drag queens, the occasional shirtless guy and over-the-top energy.
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