The following is a list of Chicago establishments that hold under 1,000 people. They are roughly arranged in order of size, smallest to largest. These venues all made the cut because of a focused conviction to presenting Chicagoans the best in up-and-coming musicians as well as providing a haven for intimate concerts with larger bands. - Jeremy Frazier
2871 North Lincoln Avenue
Chicago, IL 60657-4201
This hole-in-the-wall Lakeview hideout has been showcasing local & regional talent seven nights a week for a while now. It’s got that dingy-in-a-charming-way sense of appeal that makes any night all that much more relaxed. The sound quality in this room is surprisingly crisp, although it can get very loud in the diminutive space of the basement. Alcohol is priced accordingly to the environment and tallboys of cheap beer are plentiful. The range of music that comes through the Elbo Room is quite varied, though you’ll most likely find that the bands fall into some category of ‘rock’. The cover prices also vary, but are generally relatively inexpensive, falling between $5-$15.
2683 North Halsted Street
Chicago, IL 60614
Despite the bar stools and pool table, this Lincoln Park venue feels more like a lounge than a bar. The décor is upscale & sophisticated, providing plenty of visual appeal. Shows at aliveOne are always free and they feature local Chicago in addition to touring Midwestern bands. The capacity of the back music room is low but the crowd is always ready for a good time. aliveOne features a nice selection of beers on tap starting at around $5 and a fully-stocked liquor cabinet.
Green Mill Cocktail Lounge
4802 North Broadway Avenue
Chicago, IL 60640
The Green Mill is one of those places where the history hangs heavy in the air. This place has been a legendary jazz club for many years, evoking thoughts of all of the performances past with its stately & classic décor. Capacity of the venue is low, but for good reason. Silence is golden in jazz music and the low number of people in the room guarantees maximum enjoyment of the complex music. The alcohol selection is not extensive but covers all the bases, including a solid menu of fine wines. Don’t be surprised to find this place at capacity on the weekends; it is an Uptown cornerstone for good reason.
3159 North Southport Avenue
Chicago, IL 60657
Head west from the Belmont Red Line stop and you will find one of Chicago’s staple music venues. Schuba’s is a classically hip music sanctuary located in the Lakeview neighborhood. It is divided into two rooms, the front is similar to a standard sports bar, complete with flat screens, plenty of beer on tap, and a stellar food menu. But the back room is where all the magic happens. At first glance, the room seems little bigger than a dining room. But when it’s filled to capacity it takes on a completely different energy. The sides of the room are lined with church pews & coat hooks, lending a comfortable & homey feel. And the sound quality is among the best in the city. The music lineup is tremendously varied, though the indie genre seems to be right in their wheelhouse. Nonetheless, over the course of a year, Schuba’s will bring in artists from almost every musical genre. The covers range from $10-$30 depending on who is the main event and the beer & mixed drinks start around $5.
1113 West Lawrence Avenue
Chicago, IL 60640
Open until 4 a.m. every night (5 a.m. on Saturdays), this Uptown club is a go-to spot for up-and-coming national electronic acts as well as local jambands, bluegrass bands, and DJs. Located just steps from the Red Line, Kinetic charges anywhere from $5-$30 covers depending on who is playing. The bars have bottled beer and mixed drinks starting at $4. The atmosphere is clean & energetic, with fantastic sound quality, excellent stage lighting, and an infectiously danceable artist lineup.
1375 West Lake Street
Chicago, IL 60607
Just steps from the CTA Green Line Ashland stop, this West Side establishment is a recent addition to Chicago’s vast array of music venues. The environment has a clean but industrial energy that resonates from its cement & steel construction. Although this venue has taken the reins to the metal scene, it also brings in a solid number of electronic and indie acts. The bars feature a mind-boggling assortment of bottled beer, as well numerous beers on tap and a plentiful liquor selection, all starting around $4. The main music room is wide open and facilitates all kinds of dancing, thrashing, and general letting loose. But the main level is just the start. The upstairs features a bar that is usually much less busy and a huge backporch from which the Chicago skyline is conveniently visible.
3855 North Lincoln Avenue
Chicago, IL 60613
This North Central institution has been bringing national acts to Chicago for a long time. For its relatively small size, Martyr’s has played host to a laundry list of artists whose next trip to Chicago was a much, much bigger venue. In other words, this place has made a habit of bringing in musicians who are on the verge of blowing up. The sound quality of this venue is superb, even in the chilling area near the 2nd bar. The alcohol selection isn’t too extensive but has something that appeals to most people, and the food is surprisingly tasty for a music venue. If you plan on going to Martyr’s on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday, you had better show up early, because this place gets packed & hopping.
3730 North Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60613
Metro/Smartbar is located in the heart of Wrigleyville, just two blocks from Wrigley Field. This dual venue is really unique in that the upstairs (Metro) brings in much different music than the downstairs (Smartbar). Metro attracts many metal, indie, and large electronic acts to its two-tiered, large-sized music room. On the other hand, Smartbar books almost predominantly DJs, who spin everything from house to trance to the dirtiest dubstep imaginable. Metro’s energy is wide open and usually very loud. Smartbar feels like a European-style underground club complete with color-changing walls and a plush lounge area. The sound quality in both rooms is exceptional and the bars– though not extensive– has a decent selection of mixed drinks and beer on tap. Quite often this place will have specials where if you buy a ticket for a Metro show, you also get admission to the Smartbar after-party — which usually rages until 4 a.m.
322 West Armitage Avenue
Chicago, IL 60614
Located in adjacent to Lincoln Park, Park West is in a truly beautiful location. The venue itself does the location tremendous justice with its well-kept appearance & clean energy. Watching a concert at Park West is really easy as the terraced seating levels provides many ideal vantage points. There are even VIP seating areas where you can place reservations on a table to ensure a place to chill out at setbreak. The shape of the room isn’t the most acoustically pleasing, but the sound system, general aesthetic, and relaxing environment of Park West more than make up for it. The alcohol selection also leaves a lot to be desired, but the focus of this venue is clearly on the music. This venue attracts some surprisingly big names but also brings in smaller acts as well. Ticket prices range from $18-$50 depending on the act. The price is well worth it if you really like the artist; this venue is definitely one of the finest in Chicago.
Jeremy Frazier is a writer & amateur photographer based out of Chicago. He specializes in crafting entertaining articles about live music witnessed all over the city on his blog, Chicago Jam Scene.