Chicago's 5 Most Historic Music Venues

We take you through some of Chicago's most iconic venues, which helped lay down the foundation for music to prosper
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Emily Meyer
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We take you through some of Chicago's most iconic venues, which helped lay down the foundation for music to prosper

When discussing Chicago, it's necessary to talk about the extensive history of music and forward thinking culture that was developed there. House music in particular was pioneered in small apartments and underground venues in the early 80s. These small, once secret venues have become riddled with history and set up the foundation for what we know today to be dance music. 

Here are some of the most noted and influential venues in Chicago:

The Warehouse

Warehouse knuckles.jpg

As the birthplace of House music, the Warehouse shook the nation with Frankie Knuckles. This new sound focusing on hypnotic and rhythmic beats flourished in this venue under Robert Williams’s ownership. It stood its ground in 1977 and saw its popularity grow in the 1980s with Frankie Knuckles’ inventive style. Williams always said he “liked the intensity” of the original parties, however when Knuckles felt it became too mainstream, he moved to his own venue, The Power Plant, another iconic venue. 

The Warehouse would then become the Muzic Box in 1982 with Ron Hardy’s Deep House motif as it's guide. Then in 1987, Chicago issued a new ordinance which forced after-hours clubs to close at the same time as bars, thus the Muzic Box was shut down.

Metro Chicago/ Smart Bar

Photo by Bobby Talamine

Photo by Bobby Talamine

When talking about Metro Chicago, you must talk about Smart Bar. The two go hand in hand. Joe Shanahan opened Smart Bar in 1982 on the fourth floor of the Metro Chicago. The club soon became a hit and was able to move to the basement where it currently resides. Shanahan has always been known for his love of music and throwing events. Early on in his life he would simply throw apartment parties; however, when the capacity grew bigger than his apartment, what else was he suppose to do other than build his own venue that reflected the Chicago scene.

Smart Bar and Metro Chicago has extensive show history, where bands and artists such as, Nirvana, Prince, and Kanye West are among the hundreds of talented artists that have walked the halls, not to mention the array of underground DJs and producers who take hold of the decks regularly.

Double Door

Photo by Carolina Sánchez

Photo by Carolina Sánchez

Speaking of Joe Shanahan, Double Door, another venue he co-owns with Sean Mulroney, has recently been threatened with eviction. Double Door is riddled with history along with the other venues on this list. Even with it’s small capacity, the venue made a strong impact on Chicago’s music scene due to a diverse collection of artists that performed there. Chance the Rapper, Sonic Youth, and The Rolling Stones have all took to the stage to showcase their talents. Hopefully, the Double Door's epic run will not come to an end in the near future. With that being said, it seems as though Joe isn't giving up the fight and we will thankfully witness the history continue. 

The Aragon Ballroom

Photo by The Saucy Monster

Photo by The Saucy Monster

Once you step inside Aragon Ballroom you will see and feel it's rich history. It looks like a venue that has changed so many times you don't know what it is anymore. It has Spanish tiles and huge murals as though you stepped inside a Spanish villa. There is a massive circular wood floor where people crowd together to watch artists below an impressively large fresco of the heavens. What is this building? When Aragon first gained popularity it was just as it says, it was a ballroom where people would come and dance in the 1960s. Then it had a long history of changes. It became a rink, a boxing venue, and a discotheque. For a while people called Aragon “Aragon Brawlroom” due to its booking of rock concerts with violent crowds. However, now Aragon is gaining huge popularity with React Presents and is a great place to witness a performance. 

Club Castle

Photo by Jennifer Catherine

Photo by Jennifer Catherine

Last but certainly not least is Club Castle. Unfortunately, I was only able to step into Club Castle once and then it immediately closed its doors. I remember walking in to one of the last nights at the venue. There was a distinct European vibe that was intended. You could walk into each room and feel something completely different. It felt as though the club never stopped going deeper into the building. You can't miss the iconic structure which is still standing on Dearborn with its granite and Gothic architecture.

Club Castle has an immense history of changing ownership and vision. It had been a magazine publishing house, an institute and a studio among the main club features. Before Castle, it was Excalibur and Vision, sister nightclubs, and before that, Limelight. I don't think this can be the last of the historic building, we just have to wait and pray for the next Club Castle to open up once again. 

As there are many venues in the city of Chicago, feel free to tell us your personal favorites in the comments below.