By Dan Morgridge

Chicago is a damn fine town for live music. Boasting countless rock venues, hip jazz spots, and more blues history than you can shake a guitar at, you can have your choice of genre at several spots throughout the city on any given night. But where does one go when they want to hear the blues without paying a dime? If we’re ruling out “the coffee shop barista’s illegal loft space” (and you probably should) then there are a couple places you can go to enjoy Chicago’s fine musical traditions without breaking the bank.

Photo Credit: The Empty Bottle

The Empty Bottle

1035 N. Western
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 276-3600
Hours: Mon to Wed 5pm-2am; Thurs to Fri 3pm-2am; Sat 12pm-3am; Sun 12pm-2am
Website & Reviews

One of the premier tastemakers in Chicago, Bruce Finkelman’s Empty Bottle is a haven for fans of indie, jazz, dance nights and all eclectic entertainments in between. Aside from booking for several other venues, the Empty Bottle folks throw a free concert every Monday on their home turf. Sometimes new faces impress the audience, sometimes old friends making a guest visit; the Bottle always makes sure to put on a decent show entirely for free, leaving you with more spending power to peruse their selection of cheap drinks.

The Whistler

2421 N. Milwaukee
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 227-3530
Hours: Mon to Thurs 6pm-2am; Fri 5pm-2am; Sat 5pm-3am; Sun 5pm-2am
Website & Reviews

Master mixologist Paul McGee makes some of the finest classic cocktails (as well as some original creations) in all of Chicago. But The Whistler is hardly what you’d picture when you imagine a crowd of people holding Moscow Mules and Manhattans. The people behind the Whistler are very much into music – they even have their own record label. As such, they’re more than happy to use their tiny stage for concerts almost every night of the week. And every single one of those concerts is free, which is definitely worth a toast.

Beat Kitchen

2100 West Belmont Avenue
Chicago, IL 60618
(773) 281-4444
Hours: Mon to Fri 4pm-2am; Sat 11:30am-3am; Sun 11:30am-2am
Website & Reviews

Roscoe Village isn’t usually known for its musical venues. One of those exceptions is the Beat Kitchen – booked by the same folks who run Subterranean in Wicker Park. If you’re looking for something a little off the beaten path, their spacious back room hosts plenty of oddball acts – Sundays at noon are devoted to children-friendly rock in their “Concerts For Kids” series, and Tuesdays are a comedy showcase for $5.

Quenchers Salon

2401 N. Western Ave.
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 276-9730
Hours: Sun to Fri 11am-2am; Sat 11am-3am
Website & Reviews

Mostly known for their beer selection, Quenchers is best known for the internationally divided chalkboard that outlines the massive list of beers available. Of course, just behind a small curtain is an easily missed secret – Quenchers also serves as a small music club. Almost all shows are suggested $5 donations, and you can catch local bands testing out their first live shows or small acts on tour from across the country. Use the extra cash to splurge on one of their many craft brews on tap.

Photo Credit: Dan Morgridge

Cal’s Liquors

400 S Wells St
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 922-6392
Hours: Mon 10am-7pm; Tues to Wed 10am-8 or 9pm; Thurs 10am-9 or 10pm; Fri 10am-2am; Sat 8pm-3am
Website & Reviews

One of the most unique venues in the city, Cal’s is a curiosity on all fronts. Located near the heart of the financial district, this combination liquor store and bar serves both day traders and bike messengers in equal amounts by day. By night, the bar transforms into a venue for small acts, usually punk or experimental bands. With dirt-cheap drink prices and the el tracks literally a stone’s throw away, Cal’s is a gem of a venue (if you don’t mind that the acts can be diamonds in the rough).

Dan Morgridge is a writer from Chicago’s Ukranian Village.He enjoys socially-conscious hedonism and hungover brunches.