Below is a list of, in my opinion, five of the coolest and most satisfying places to see a show in the city. Admittedly, I've not been to every venue, so if your favorite isn't on this list be sure to comment with where you love to go and why.
1. Schubas (3159 North Southport Ave in Lakeview) - Schubas is pretty much the ideal place to catch a band in Chicago. It's intimate and relaxed, but features a diverse roster of musicians that includes both local favorites and more widely-known, national acts. On top of that, the sound is great, the prices are good and the staff is always friendly. What more could you want?
2. Hideout (1354 West Wabansia in Noble Square) - One of the main reasons to see a show here is the sense of personal satisfaction you get when you finally locate the blasted thing. Yes, the Hideout really does hide out. So much so that the first time I went there it resulted in a rather confused and strained relationship between me and my cab driver. That aside, once I made it inside I found a comfortable, unassuming place that serves as an ideal setting for checking out some of the many awesome indie acts that call Chicago home.
The Chicago Reader and its readers agree - they recently selected it as the city's finest rock venue. What the Hideout crew had to say for itself says it all:
"Of course the secret to our success is not a secret at all. It is a friendly staff, made up mostly of musicians, and artists, that are not only concerned with our community but actually participate in civic minded activities. Add amazing bands and cheap beer and you’ve got a great party."
3. The Vic (3145 North Sheffield Ave in Lakeview) - When it comes to a happy medium between huge venues and small venues - as well as the huge and small acts that go with them - the Vic is very effective. Every time I've been there the sound has been great, you can choose whether you want to sit or stand and it's easy to get to via public transportation. Did I mention the sound is great?
4. Park West (322 West Armitage in Lincoln Park) - Just been to Lollapalooza and still trying to scrub strangers' sweat and cigarette smoke off your skin? It's time for a more relaxed, intimate show. Lincoln Park's Park West is the perfect place to go for a more chilled-out (but often still quite rocking) evening in a unique, classy atmosphere. This venue is generally frequented by more thoughtful, singer-songwriter and veteran acts, which means you probably won't have to deal with trashed indie kids annoyingly preventing you from hearing or seeing the show.
The theater has been around since the 1920s, but turned into Park West in 1977. Since then, it has provided a welcome antidote to one too many consecutive dive bar shows.
5. Metro (3730 N Clark St in Wrigleyville) - Metro isn't a perfect venue, but it's undeniable that it's a mainstay in the Chicago music scene and usually features a strong selection of music that spans popularity levels and genres, including small, large, legendary and new acts. Plus, you get a good view pretty much anywhere you stand.