Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Best Chicago Blues Bars

You know I love the blues. Besides being a part of my heritage, I really respond to the tangible emotions that run through the music, from joy and raunchiness, to melancholy and regret. You have not experienced the real Chicago until you have felt the embrace of live blues late at night, in a dark room filled with liquor fumes and laughter. You can catch Chicago blues on any night of the week in many neighborhoods but all blues clubs are not created equal. Beer selection and a convenient location don’t make a great blues club, the music and the atmosphere does.  I often get asked about the best Chicago blues clubs to visit so here are my  personal picks for the best spots to hear high quality blues, like sets by blues divas Deitra Farr, Nellie Travis and Peaches Staten, above.

1.  Rosa’s Lounge
The warmth of this small neighborhood joint extends from the gregarious Italian-born owner Tony Mangiullo, to the musicians and regulars who greet visitors like long lost friends.  Adding to the homey vibe,Tony’s mother Rosa runs the bar and serves up homemade pasta on designated nights. As a blues drummer, Mangiullo shows a keen eye for booking local blues legends like James Wheeler as well as cutting edge stars like Melvin Taylor and Deitra Farr.

2. Buddy Guy’s Legends
Owned by the legendary blues guitarist Buddy Guy himself, Legends is the place to hear energetic sets by local and  international performers like acclaimed singer/songwriter Shemekia Copeland, above. The back walls are lined with  the signed guitars of Stevie Ray Vaughn, Carlos Santana and B.B. King and the spacious room is always packed so come early. Sample Cajun specialties from the lunch and dinner menu and expect to dance, sing or at least clap along to the music.
3. Artis’s Lounge 
Technically, Artis’s isn’t strictly a blues bar since house, stepper’s music, R&B and karaoke find their way into the mix during the week. It’s Sunday and Monday nights that this lively, South Side spot jumps with so much blues spirit that it makes up for that little detail. Covered in mirrors and accented by a circular bar, Artis’s hosts blues harp master Billy Branch pictured above, on Monday nights, attracting fellow blues musicians to sit in along with a full house. Don’t miss the jukebox stuffed with blues and soul classics.

This intimate pub stands out as a showcase for talented blues women. It’s a rare night that Blue Chicago doesn’t focus on the wide-ranging skills of local blues singers like Grana Louise, Peaches Staten and Demetria Taylor. Drop in for a celebration of female blues voices in a relaxed setting. Sweaty dancing and on stage washboard playing are optional.

One of Chicago’s oldest blues clubs, this North Side Mecca is also one of the rowdiest, with two stages and crowds that veer towards frat boy antics. If you can overlook the offstage behavior, you can enjoy the onstage offerings that typically include a solid line-up of touring blues stars like Sugar Blue and The Kinsey Report, with engaging local singers like Nellie “Tiger” Travis.  Doc’s Rib Joint menu adds even more fun to the experience.

6. Lee’s Unleaded Blues
Declaring itself “Chicago’s Favorite juke joint,” this lounge lives up to its name with a dimly lit, rectangular space perched on an out-of-the way corner of the South Side. Locals have flocked to Lee’s since the 70s and there’s a heavy old school charm that floods the shag-carpeted room, pictured above. Listen to regulars like Sir Walter Scott or up and coming acts like Toronzo Cannon. 


katemade designs said...

I miss going to Rosa's with you. We should do that again some time soon.

Fly Girl said...

Katie, I totally do too. We have to plan a Rosa's reunion!

Rachel Cotterill said...

Bookarked for the day I finally make it to Chicago!

Fly Girl said...

Rachel, we're waiting for you!

A Cuban In London said...

I'm with Rachel in this one. The first line of your post is the only invitation I need. A native Chicagoan saying she loves the blues, followed by a selection of blues joints to visit is the only ticket I need.

I didn't know Buddy had a bar all to himself. Just the other day I was doing my usual run and his "You're Damed Right I've Got the Blues" came on and boy, did I race up those hills! I couldn't give too hoots if I was doing a Usain-Bolt on a ten-mile jog. Being knackered at the end was the least of my worries. My body was responding to Buddy's electric piece. That'll definitely be my first stop in Chicago. And we'll get there, Fly Girl, one day we'll get there.

Greetings from London.

PS: It's remarkable that we have both posted on music. You on what your native city has to offer. Me, on my adoptive one's multicultural and diverse richness.

Fly Girl said...

Cubano, I'm waiting for you too. Hopefully, I'll get to Cuba soon and you'll make it to Chicago sooner.

Anonymous said...

.. thanks for sharing.

Andrew Graeme Gould said...

I'll also be keeping this list handy for when the day comes, Rosalind, so thanks! l wonder if Buddy Guy ever appears at his own club? Now that would be a treat!

Fly Girl said...

Andrew, Buddy performs every January for always sold-out shows so plan visiting then if you can brave Chicago winters.

adam said...

Fly girl, great article thank you. I'm coming to Chicago next month from UK, can't wait! I'm a massive fan of and play blues harp, other than the above can you recommend anywhere in Chicago that I'll see harmonica performances or museums or whatever? Cheers!

adam said...

Fly girl, great article thank you. I'm coming to Chicago next month from UK, can't wait! I'm a massive fan of and play blues harp, other than the above can you recommend anywhere in Chicago that I'll see harmonica performances or museums or whatever? Cheers!

Fly Girl said...

Adam, I'm happy that you'll hear Chicago blues live! We have quite a few master harp players, namely Billy Branch and Sugar Blue. Billy will play at Rosa's on September 15 and Madcat on September 29. Artis' has unfortanately just closed. Don't miss the Blues Heaven museum which also has free concerts. Hope this helps!