The 6 Best Chicago Blues Clubs & Jazz Clubs
If the blues were born in the Mississippi Delta, they came of age in Chicago. From Muddy Waters to B.B. King to Howlin' Wolf, countless artists left the Deep South in the 1930s and '40s and arrived in Sweet Home Chicago, where they traded in their acoustics for electrics and swapped lyrics about working hard lands for ones about surviving in the big city.
The city's great musical traditions are still thriving today, as you can see if you stop in any of these great Chicago blues clubs and jazz lounges. There you'll find both living legends and up-and-coming performers, ready to light up the stage with electrifying licks and soulful vocals. Here are the best spots to see it happen.
B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted
2519 N. Halsted St. | Lincoln Park
Price range: $5–$10 cover
What you'll hear: Chicago-style electric blues from local masters like Lurrie Bell and Lil' Ed & the Blues Imperials
What to know: Elbow room is usually in high demand at this notoriously packed Lincoln Park venue, especially on weekends, so get there well before music starts at 9:30 for a shot at a table or bar seat. If you're not ready for the night to end at closing time, head across the street to Kingston Mines, which is open until at least 4 a.m. every night.
2548 N. Halsted St. | Lincoln Park
Price range: $12–$15 cover
What you'll hear: Two stages' worth of mostly blues stylings, including standing gigs from Chicago legends like Linsey Alexander (Sundays) and Mike Wheeler (Tuesdays and Thursdays)
What to know: With two stages in separate rooms, there's a bit more room to breathe at this club. Kingston also has a kitchen: walk to the back and you'll find Doc's Rib Joint, which cooks up St. Louis–style pork ribs, plus Cajuns favorites like blackened catfish and fried shrimp.
The Green Mill
4802 N. Broadway | Uptown
Price range: Free – $15 cover
What you'll hear: Sounds from the full spectrum of jazz, from traditional to bebop to contemporary, often incorporating the house Hammond B-3 organ. You can also catch the occasional poetry slam or variety show.
What to know: This cash-only cocktail lounge was a frequent hangout of the notorious Al Capone, whose favorite booth (the one with the view of both the entrance and the exit) still survives near the short end of the bar. Today it's better known for its swanky vibe, sophisticated entertainment, and strict "no talking" policy, which helps you savor every second of the music.
Buddy Guy's Legends
700 S. Wabash Ave. | South Loop
Price range: $10 cover Sunday–Thursday; $20 cover Friday–Saturday; $55–$70 for Buddy Guy performances
What you'll hear: Blues, rock, and soul from local artists and touring acts, plus sets from the legendary Buddy Guy, who was named #30 on Rolling Stone's list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time
What to know: Now in his 80s, Buddy Guy is still rock and rolling along, showing off the inspired guitar and vocal work that has earned him seven Grammys and a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, among countless other honors. Get there early if you want a good spot: seating is first-come, first-served only, and tables fill up as early as 6–7 p.m. on weekends for 9 p.m. shows. You can also catch a free acoustic show during lunch or dinner most days.
3420 W. Armitage Ave. | Logan Square
Price range: $5–$15, plus $5 extra for reserved seating
What you'll hear: Electric urban blues from many of the same local artists who play Kingston Mines and B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted
What to know: After meeting Junior Wells and Buddy Guy in Milan in the '70s, an Italian immigrant came to Chicago to open this friendly Logan Square lounge, modeling it on the South Side clubs that first nurtured the Chicago blues style. Its location, away from the bustle of downtown and the better-known Halsted St. clubs, means it's more likely to attract true blues believers than curious tourists.
806 S. Plymouth Ct. | South Loop
Price range: $20–$35 for regular seating; $35–$50 for VIP
What you'll hear: Acclaimed jazz acts from around the world, including saxophonists, trumpeters, vocalists, and groups
What to know: Remarkably, Joe Segal has been running the Jazz Showcase since founding it as a student at Roosevelt University in 1947 (albeit in dozens of locations over the decades). As the oldest of the Chicago jazz clubs, it's hosted immortals like Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, and Ornette Coleman, and today you can still hear Grammy winners and world-famous performers in the intimate, 160-seat setting. The Sunday matinee is especially family-friendly, with free admission for kids 12 and under.
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