A Raver's Guide To Chicago
Chicago is an essential stop on the raver's global mecca. The birthplace of house, the Windy City, has a rich tradition of music, art, and activism. Hopefully, we'll see you at the stacked second-annual ARC Music Festival on Labor Day weekend.
Read on for some restaurants, bars, record stores, and museums to visit while you're in town.
If you go to Chicago, you have experience Smartbar's dance floor. The 400-capacity club that opened in 1982 is the only remaining club from the early house music era—and it's remained independent! Frankie Knuckles, Derrick Carter, and The Blessed Madonna have all held residencies at the legendary club, keeping the original spirit of Chicago warehouse raves alive and well. Resident Advisor calls it "one of the United States' most important nightclubs." It's in the basement of an equally historic independent (live music) venue (run by the same people), Metro.
Smartbar will host an official ARC 2022 afterparty with Chicago house queens Honey Dijon and DJ Heather.
SpybarSpybar, which opened downtown in 1995, is another Chicago club institution. Âme, Skream, Stacey Pullen, and many more have thrown down in the 300-capacity basement club over the years. During ARC, they will host two mind-blowing pairings: Carl Craig B2B Seth Troxler and Skream B2B Eats Everything. Giolí & Assia will also serve up an official ARC afterparty DJ set.
Radius / Cermak Hall
Radius is a newer warehouse venue in a converted steel factory in East Pilsen. The 3,800-capacity, multi-room space is home to a wide variety of raves and concerts and has hosted elrow events, Nora En Pure, Get Real, Disclosure, and more.
According to their website, the large space boats a "state-of-the-art D&B KSL sound system [and] exceptional acoustics." They also worked with the open floor plan of the factory to encourage an " exploratory experience for guests."
Within Radius is another venue, Cermak Hall. The more-intimate space has a 1,350 capacity. During ARC 2022, both venues will host official after parties. Green Velvet and Claude VonStroke will return to Radius, which will also host Boris Brejcha and Eric Prydz with Adam Beyer. Techno queens ANNA and Sama' Abdulhadi will go hard at Cermak Hall, which will also host Derick Carter, Ricardo Villalobos, and Gorgon City. Dang!
PRYSM / No. 9
PRYSM opened in 2016 in Lincoln Park, in the former Crobar space. The 850-capacity club features a large LED wall and fantastic lighting and hosts a mix of DJ sets and live shows. Chicago nightlife aficionado Nick Karounos owns the space. He also runs Radius, Concord Music Hall, and ARC Fest. The "Champagne Lounge" is the venue's third space, which operates as a separate, more-intimate venue, No. 9, on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.
As for ARC afterparties, left-field dance music power couple Öona Dahl and DJ Three will B2B at No. 9. while Nora En Pure, Joseph Capriati, and Vintage Culture will all headline afterparties at PRYSM.
Bars & Coffee Shops
"Chicago’s tavern culture helps makes this city special, and dive bars are an important part of it. The best of the city’s dives provide a comfortable, welcoming place for people to gather," Eater explains in their Essential Dive Bars list. Rosa's Lounge is one of the beloved dives on this list, located in Logan Square since 1984. In addition to offering cheap, cold drinks, they have live blues bands Wednesday through Sunday. Be sure to grab an Old Style, the city's cheap beer of choice.
Delilah's is another essential Chicago dive, popular among punks and goths, thanks to their regular programming of DJs spinning rock, punk, metal, Ska, reggae, soul, garage, and more. It's been a counterculture establishment in mainstream Lincoln Park since 1993 and features a menu filled with beer, whiskey, and wine.
For fancy, inventive drinks, look no further than Kumiko. The bar is a sister space to two-Michelin-starred fine dining restaurant, Oriole, both run by Japanese American chef Julia Momose. Japanese flavors inspire the drinks and food at Kumiko, and the creative drink flights are "like watching a story unfold, and something drinkers can’t find anywhere else in the country."
Standing Passengers coffee shop features locally roasted Dark Matter coffee (which also runs several coffee shops of their own), deli sandwiches, Do-Rite Donuts, and PB&J sandwiches with a variety of nut butters, and jams. Located in West Town, they also have old-school Mortal Kombat gaming tables and art on the walls.
Spinning J is a tasty trip back in time, where you can sit in front of their old-fashioned soda fountain and order an egg cream, root beer, float, milkshake, or a matcha latte or La Colombe iced coffee if the '50s terrifies you. They make all their soda syrup in-house, using fruit, herbs, botanicals, and essential oils, and also offer a solid variety of yummy breakfast options and lunch sandwiches. Eater recommends it for brunch, and it also seems like a great place to pick up a coffee and a freshly-baked scone or buttermilk biscuit.
If you didn't eat any deep dish, did you even visit Chicago? Eater lists Gino's East as one of the best spots to grab a thick one. On their menu, you can find classic toppings like veggie lovers and meat lovers, along with creative takes like spinach Margherita, buffalo chicken, and even a "burger & fries" pie. They offer two classic Chicago crust sizes (read on for more), deep-dish or tavern-style thin crust. Find their pies in Magnificent Mile and South Loop (as well as a few spots outside of Chicago).
Vito & Nick's Pizza
Vito & Nick's Pizza
As Eater explains, Chicago is not just about deep-dish pizza. Tavern-style pizza, originally intended as bar bites, consists of a crispy thin crust cut into small squares and is popular with locals. They cite Vito & Nick's Pizza on the South Side as "the most iconic example." They've been baking classic thin-crust pies since 1920! You pick the toppings, and they'll fire it up.
Roister is the casual offering from the local high-end Alinea Group, which includes spots like Michelin-starred Next. Eater, which names Roister one of the Iconic Brunch Restaurants in the Windy City, says "the food is just as impressive" as the other Alinea digs and cooks up "arguably one of the best fried chicken sandwiches in Chicago."
They also serve dinner with a rotating seasonal menu of delicious things, like oysters, pull-apart brioche, blue crab rigatoni, and their signature roast and crispy chicken. For the average raver, I'd say this would be a higher-end "treat yo self" meal to satisfy your belly and your soul before or after a weekend of stomping around the dance floor.
Luella's Southern Kitchen
Luella's Southern Kitchen
Luella's Southern KitchenLuella's Southern Kitchen, named after chef/owner Darnell Reed's great-grandma, serves "Southern comfort foods to nourish the soul," Eater describes. Eater recommends Luella's as an iconic brunch spot, dishing out juicy fried chicken and waffles, salmon croquettes, shrimp and grits, and "can't-miss" homemade buttermilk biscuits and skillet cornbread. In addition to weekend brunch, they serve dinner Thursday through Sunday. Whenever you're there, don't forget about beignets!
Black Dog Gelato
Black Dog Geltao
When the Chicago summer sun inevitably gets you toasty af, it's the perfect time to hit up one of the city's great ice cream shops. Black Dog Gelato, owned by Chicago-native pastry chef Jessica Oloroso serves up creamy "Chicago-style gelato" made with local dairy and seasonal produce. The August flavors offer a mix of classic and creative seasonal scoops, including goat cheese cashew caramel, raspberry lychee sorbet, peach tea sorbet, Italian custard, and cassata—ricotta gelato with cherries, candied orange peel, and chocolate! They have locations in Ukrainian Village, West Loop, and Logan Square.
Art & Museums
Museum of Contemporary Art
Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art is one of the largest institutions in the world dedicated to modern art. They've hosted exhibitions from the likes of Virgil Abloh, David Bowie, and Takashi Murakami and also have exhibits dedicated to rising local and international artists. Discover locally bred talent in their Chicago Works series, and, after, refresh yourself at their bar/restaurant Marisol and find some arty swag at the gift shop.
Art Institute of Chicago
Art Institute of Chicago
As you approach the Art Institute of Chicago, a friendly bronze lion greets you (don't worry, I don't think he bites). The massive art museum has around 300,000 works that span centuries in its permanent collection and rotating exhibitions of world-renowned artists. There's a Modern Wing and the Thorne Miniature Rooms—yes, intricate models of period rooms, reportedly beloved by Wes Anderson!
DuSable Black History Museum
DuSable Black History Museum
In 1961, artist/educator/writer/activist Margaret Taylor Burroughs opened the country's first independent museum celebrating Black culture, now known as the DuSable Black History Museum (after Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable, the Haitian-born founder of Chicago). Learn about Black history and activists and explore art by Black artists at this historic museum.
The beloved Gramaphone Records has been delivering the grooves to the Windy City since 1969. Since house music began to take hold of the city in the early '80s, Gramaphone has focused on dance music, becoming a haven for DJs and ravers alike. While visiting this storied Chicago music institution, you'll be surrounded by records meticulously organized by dance genres and subgenres, with a small section for other music. The friendly and knowledgeable staff are there to help you find exactly the sound you're craving and to discover something new.
Since 2015, 606 Records has focused on highlighting independent labels and artists from Chicago and around the world across genres. The independent record store and label is located in the lively Pilsen neighborhood, across from the Thalia Hall venue, and sells new and used vinyl.
Reckless Records, with its original store across the pond in London, has three record shops in Chicago filled with new and used vinyl, CDs, DVDs, and more, with the first dating back to 1988. Timeout explains their Wicker Park store has the widest variety of music and even hosts events like performances and record signings from time to time.