With more than 200 music venues, Chicago is a world-class destination for live entertainment.
by Ashley Powers, Web Specialist, E-commerce
For years, Chicago has played host to some of the world’s biggest music acts. It has been credited with the emergence of several types of music too, including Chicago Blues and House music. That prestige, combined with the city’s abundance of historic theaters, outdoor stages and other architecturally interesting venues, makes Chicago a renowned live music hub. We explored the story behind five of the city’s beloved music venues.
1. Schubas Tavern
3159 N. Southport Ave.
This little building at the corner of Belmont and Southport Avenues was originally constructed as a Schlitz Brewery tied house in 1903. Tied houses became popular in America in the 1880s when license fees to operate a saloon were drastically raised, presumably to force out low-class dive bars. Instead of permanently closing their doors, many owners turned to breweries for help with financing. The brewery provided all the supplies and paid license fees. The owner, in exchange, agreed to sell only that brewery’s beer. Of the many Schlitz tied houses built in the Midwest, Schubas is one of very few that still serves alcohol. More than 80 years after opening, the building was purchased by Chris and Michael Schuba. They restored the 30-foot Brunswick mahogany bar, tin ceilings, walnut wainscoting and the exterior, including the famous Schlitz globe logo. The concert hall, which is situated in the back of the building, was completely renovated and the brothers put together a used sound system and lighting so the venue could host concerts on weekends. To bring in crowds on slower nights, they invited local musician Stuart Rosenberg and his band The Otters to play on Tuesdays. Word soon spread, and the lines wrapped around the block to see them play every week.
2. Thalia Hall
1807 S. Allport St.
Thalia Hall dates back to 1892, around the time of the World’s Columbian Exposition. The stained glass window above the entrance still bears the original address, 756-758 Allport, which changed when the city switched over to the grid system in 1909. Founder John Dusek wanted the building to serve as both a community center for the bustling Pilsen neighborhood and a space to bring the performing arts from Bohemia to America. At the time, Pilsen was a community known for appreciating music and the performing arts and there are reports that more pianos were sold in Pilsen during that era than any other neighborhood in Chicago. The building’s architects, Frederick Faber and William Pagels, designed the building in Romanesque Revival style, drawing some inspiration from the Prague opera house. The building was meant to last for generations and its sturdy wood floors, sheet metal balcony fronts and ceiling and many other details are still intact today. It closed to the public in the 1960s and sat vacant until the current owners began restoration efforts in 2013. It now includes two restaurants and a spacious concert hall on the top floor.
3. Chicago Theatre
175 N. State St.
The Chicago Theatre was built in 1921 by architects C. W. Rapp and George L. Rapp. They designed the building in Neo-Baroque French-Revival style, making it the oldest surviving example of this style still standing in Chicago today. Meant to be the grandiose flagship location of the Balaban and Katz movie theater chain, no detail was overlooked. The building included ceiling murals, a Tiffany glass window, glazed off-white terracotta, air conditioning, a grand staircase inspired by the Paris Opera House, a Wurlitzer pipe organ and curtains, furniture and other interior decor from Marshall Field’s. The theater was remodeled not long after it first opened, in preparation for the 1933 World’s Fair. It closed in 1985, but was quickly purchased, renovated to its 1930s design, and reopened in time for a 1986 gala performance by Frank Sinatra.
4. Uptown Theatre
4816 N. Broadway Ave.
Although it’s not currently in use, the Uptown Theater remains one of the most beloved historical treasures of Chicago. Like the Chicago Theater, it was originally a Balaban & Katz theater. When they acquired the property, Balaban and Katz were unable to purchase the building next to it, so the building was designed in an “L” shape with a lobby perpendicular to the auditorium. Upon its opening in 1925, the Uptown Theater was advertised as “an acre of seats” with seating for more than 4,300 people, making it one of the largest movie palaces in the country. The theater primarily aired movies until the 1960s and 1970s, when it got a new life as a major concert venue, hosting acts like the Grateful Dead, Bruce Springsteen & the E-Street Band, Prince and Bob Marley, to name a few. It closed in 1981 when frozen water pipes burst, causing extensive damage inside.
5. Jay Pritzker Pavilion
201 E. Randolph St.
Pritzker Pavilion opened in 2004, making it the newest venue on the list. Situated in Chicago’s Millennium Park, the structure is classified as a work of art (rather than a building) to avoid height limitations of buildings along the lakefront. Much of the futuristic design—dreamt up by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry—is also functional. The trellis of interlocking, crisscrossing steel pipes that soar over the great lawn help support the innovative sound system, which imitates the acoustics of an indoor music hall. Today the pavilion is the site of many outdoor concerts and festivals.