Nightlife in Chicago: Best Bars, Clubs, & More

Chicago Cityscape at Night Aerial View
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Known for its house music and unique style of jazz, it's no secret that Chicago has an electric live-music scene. Comedy clubs are also popular here; you can see a late-night show at venues where famous comedians like Bill Murray, Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Stephen Colbert have performed. Housing 2.7 million residents and welcoming 58 million tourists each year, it's a sure bet that the nightlife in the windy city caters to various curiosities and clientele.

From dance clubs and live-music venues to sports-centric bars and comedy clubs, Chicago has something for every budget and taste. Here’s everything you need to know about late-night partying in the city of big shoulders.

Bars

It seems like new and interesting water holes pop up every month. Sports fans love gathering at the local pub to watch the Chicago Cubs or Chicago Bears play, while the after-work crowd tends to flock to trendy bars for wine and cocktails. When the weekend rolls around, people show up in droves.

Most bars close their doors at 2 a.m., so if you want to continue the nighttime shenanigans, you’ll have to move to a late-night bar (these stay open until 4 a.m.).

  • Old Town Ale House: This is a classic Chicagoan dive bar, full of misfits and great people watching. It’s one that Anthony Bourdain favored and included in his show.
  • Estelle’s Café and Lounge: Estelle’s has been around for two decades. People love the art deco atmosphere, craft beer, and burgers.
  • The Violet Hour: Take a trip down the rabbit hole in trendy Wicker Park. Be sure to order an expertly crafted cocktail from the James Beard Award-winning beverage program.
  • The Aviary: Even though the bubbling, foaming, crackling drinks here are quite expensive, you’re paying for an elevated experience in Chicago’s West Loop. Dress up and bring friends for a night to remember.
  • Scofflaw: Gin-centric masterpieces are served in this dark and dreamy nook-filled bar.
  • Sportsman’s Club: Do you favor manly rustic bars with copious amounts of taxidermy? This cash-only Ukrainian Village hangout has a funky backyard patio, perfect for late-night drinking.
  • Hopleaf Bar: Craft beers are all the rage at this Andersonville neighborhood staple, where no children are allowed. Choose from 68 draft beers and order food from the well-crafted menu.  
  • Fox Bar: This snug hangout, located on the second floor of Soho House Chicago, is like drinking in your Dad’s basement. Play a record, order a pizza from a vintage payphone, and drink a cocktail in an upholstered chair with rolled arms.

Night Clubs

Chicago’s night club scene is incredibly diverse, catering to various music styles, pocket books, and ambiances. Celebrity DJs from across the globe show up at many of these popular basement clubs, some of which utilize high-octane video projections, light displays, and paid professional dancers. Be prepared to make reservations, wait in long entrance lines, spend money on bottle service, and adhere to strict dress codes at some of these establishments. Ear plugs are also not a bad idea as the music can be intense.

From huge crowds on multi-levels to intimate lounges with private booths, Chicago has something for every late-night partier. Here are a few of the most popular clubs in Chicago:

  • Smartbar: DJs spin techno dance music for large crowds at this popular independent venue, located around the corner from Wrigley Field. While some nights are free, most events require tickets purchased in advance. On Saturdays, Smartbar is open until 5 a.m.
  • Spybar: House, techno, and electro are on the menu here at this basement dance club in River North, open until 5 a.m. on weekends.
  • Berlin: This late-night club, located on the edge of Boystown, is one of the most fun dance clubs in the city. Feel free to come as you are and be yourself here, where all are welcomed. Be prepared to meet new friends—the dance floor is tiny.
  • The Underground: Expect to bump into a celebrity or two at this well-heeled dance club in River North. Book table reservations well in advance and dress to impress.
  • Sound-Bar: Be careful not to lose your friends in this 20,000 square-foot club, full of lasers, floor-to-ceiling video projections, and large-scale monitors. There are nine bars, four lounges, and one VIP room.

Live Music

There’s a rich music history in this city, home to Chicago Blues and Chicago-style Jazz. Think: Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Benny Goodman, and Nat King Cole. Because underground house and electronic styles were developed here as well, it should come as no surprise that plenty of music venues in Chicago have thrived throughout the decades. Expect a cover charge at most of them in the city. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Green Mill Jazz Club: Visiting the Green Mill in Uptown—a Chicago staple with a Prohibition-era mob history—is a quintessential Chicagoan experience.
  • Kingston Mines: Live music on two different stages entertains a diverse crowd of music lovers. This Lincoln Park blues night club is the oldest and largest endlessly-operating blues club in Chicago.
  • The Empty Bottle: This neighborhood dive bar, located on a corner in Ukrainian Village, hosts everything from hard country to rock, techno, and punk.
  • Lincoln Hall and Shubas Tavern: Indie bands, acoustic performers, and singer-songwriter entertainers are on the docket at these sister venues.

Comedy Clubs

Standup, sketch, and improvisational comedy clubs abound in Chicago, a city with a long history of churning out America’s top comedians—many of which have performed on "Saturday Night Live." Most comedy clubs in the city have a drink minimum and tickets must be purchased in advance. Some clubs have tight seating, so be prepared to sit next to strangers. Here are the city's top comedy clubs, where you will laugh so hard that your belly will ache.

  • The Second City: When people think of comedy in Chicago, The Second City is top of mind. Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Chris Farley, Steve Carrell, Stephen Colbert, Amy Sedaris, and many more famous stars got their start here.
  • The iO Theater: iO, formerly the ImprovOlympic Theater, has been around since 1981. It also operates as a training center and has launched the careers of well-known celebrities like Seth Meyers, Cecily Strong, and Rachel Dratch.
  • Annoyance Theatre: Plays, musicals, and sketch comedy are what you’ll experience here in this comedy venue, showcasing long-running performances. 
  • The Revival: Standup, improv, classes, and workshops are the bread and butter at The Revival, located on Chicago’s south side in Hyde Park.
  • CSZ Chicago: ComedySportz Theatre is a family-friendly comedy competition with refs that depend on audience participation.

Festivals

Chicago showcases several comedy festivals throughout the year. Most are based at the individual clubs and theatres. Stage 773 hosts the Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival, while The Second City showcases the annual Breakout Comedy Festival.

There are many music, food, and cultural festivals throughout the year, many carrying on into the late hours:

  • September: Chicago Jazz Festival and Riot Fest
  • October: Chicago International Film Festival, Arts in the Dark, and Latino Music Festival
  • November & December: Christkindlmarket
  • March: Chicago Beer Festival
  • June: Chicago Blues Festival
  • July: Taste of Chicago, Pitchfork Music Festival, and Lollapalooza
  • August: Chicago Jazz Festival

Tips for Going Out in Chicago:

  • The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) operates buses and trains throughout the city at many locations. Each train line has a different route—spreading out from the Loop—with varying time tables. Be sure to check the CTA’s website if you plan on using public transportation. Taking the train is recommended due to limited parking at many locations.
  • Uber and Lyft are widely used at all hours and locations throughout the city. Taxis are available as well. Yellow Cab Chicago and Checker Taxi are safe and reliable. 
  • Most bars close at 2 a.m., especially during the week. However there are plenty of late-night bars, venues, and dance clubs that stay open until 5 a.m. on weekends.
  • Tipping is expected pretty much anywhere you go in the city. Be prepared to tip servers and bartenders in cash.
  • Some bars are cash only and only accept small bills, so it’s a good idea to have extra funds before going out.
  • In general, alcohol at a public park, playground, or beach is prohibited. There are a few exceptions, though. Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park allows alcohol during events, and you can drink your adult beverages within the confines of festivals like Lollapalooza, The Taste of Chicago, or Christkindlmarket.
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