When it comes to live music--and who showcases it best--New Orleans jams out with jazz. Nashville is the place to be if you're looking for all things country. And no city does the blues better than the Windy City.
Since 1984, Chicago, in fact, has hosted the world's largest free blues festival, attracting more than 500,000 fans over three days each year. Past performers have included the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Ray Charles, B.B. King, Bo Diddley, Buddy Guy, and Koko Taylor. Further proving Chicago is the "Blues Capital of the World" is the fact that these same artists and others have played in so many venues all over town.
The Chicago Blues Experience, a privately run, 50,000-square-foot facility, is slated to open in spring 2019 near Millennium Park. The museum will include a live-music lounge accommodating 150. In the meantime, here are seven of the best blues bars in Chicago, ranging from a Grammy award-winning legend's South Loop gem to a divey Logan Square lounge that counts even President Obama as a fan.
Why We Love It: River North's teeming with late-night spots catering to young professionals, and Blue Chicago stands out for its live-music offerings. You'll find more female-led blues acts performing here than any other bar in town.
Where To Find It: 534 N. Clark St., 312-661-0100
Admission: $10 Sunday through Thursday; $12 Friday, Saturday
Nearby Hotels & Other Accommodations: Many hotels are in walking distance to the venue, such as The Gwen and other hot properties.
Why We Love It: Dubbed "the greatest living guitarist" by Eric Clapton, legendary Chicago blues star Buddy Guy opened his eponymous downtown live music venue in 1989 in the South Loop neighborhood. Throughout the years, the bar--considered one of Chicago's top live-music establishments--has hosted a who's who in show biz, from B.B. King to The Rolling Stones. The walls document the bar's rich history, featuring autographed photos, endless awards, retired Buddy Guy guitars and more.
Where To Find It: 700 S. Wabash Ave., 312-427-1190
Admission: Cover varies by artist
Nearby Hotels & Other Accommodations: Renaissance Blackstone Chicago Hotel and a few others are in walking distance to Buddy Guy's Legends.
Why We Love It: The Southern-focused restaurant resides on the first level of House of Blues and is open for lunch and dinner. Guests who dine in the evening--when there is live music nightly--must order dinner or a two-drink minimum. Menu staples include cornbread with maple syrup, plus shrimp & grits, buttermilk fried chicken, pulled pork sliders, gumbo, jambalaya and bourbon bread pudding. Live music is typically blues, and the restaurant is family friendly.
Where To Find It: 329 N. Dearborn St., 312-923-2000
Admission: Free, with two-drink minimum or dinner
Why We Love It: What's known as Chicago's longest-running blues club is still going strong after more than 45 years in Lincoln Park. Kingston Mines is open 365 days a year, so those looking for an alternative place to celebrate in Chicago during the holidays have a place to go. There are two stages with two bands performing at all times.
Where To Find It: 2548 N. Halsted St., 773-477-4647
Admission: $12 Sunday through Thursday; $15 Friday, Saturday
Nearby Hotels & Other Accommodations: Hotel Lincoln is about a five-minute taxi ride away.
Why We Love It: While night owls enjoy Chicago-style blues during the wee hours, brunch lovers can get theirs at River Roast every weekend during daylight. Local bands rotate weekly as guests nosh on updated Southern dishes like shrimp & bacon Po'Boy, rabbit and waffles and a Lowcountry Croque Madame on sourdough. Brunch happens 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Saturday, Sunday.
Where To Find It: 315 N. LaSalle Dr., 312-822-0100
Admission: Free with brunch purchase
Nearby Hotels & Other Accommodations: Many hotels are in walking distance to the venue, such as Acme Hotel Co. and other properties.
Why We Love It: During his tenure in the White House and before, President Obama frequented his share of Chicago hot spots. Rosa's Lounge was one such destination. The legendary Logan Square blues club opened in 1984, and has hosted every major star in the genre ever since.
Where To Find It: 3420 W. Armitage Ave., 773-342-0452
Admission: $15-$20, depending on artist
Nearby Hotels & Other Accommodations: Longman & Eagle Inn is close by.
Why We Love It: Smoke Daddy’s recent renovations, which include expanding the indoor/outdoor dining area and upgrading the smoker, make it more popular than ever for those who love Chicago's BBQ joints. Its reputation has long extended beyond the Wicker Park crowd it mostly serves because of the free nightly live-music program, including regular blues sets.
Where To Find It: 1804 W. Division St., 773-772-6656