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Blues, Jazz And Roots Music In Chicago: The Best (if Not Best-known) Small Clubs

Blues, Jazz and Roots Music in Chicago: The Best (if Not Best-known) Small ClubsNeighborhood: Uptown; Logan Square; BerwynChicago, ILvariousMusic fans take for granted that the hottest concerts and internationally-renowed musicians will stop at Chicago's massive stadiums and legendary auditoriums. The city's young and fabulous flock to smaller alternative urban venues that spotlight up-and-coming bands. But if you listen for sounds drifting in from the outlying neighborhoods, you'll find Chicago also reveals musical treasures that are are easy on the ears, attitude, and wallet - and a perfect fit for those who want something that's not-too-big, not-too-hip, and just right for enjoying good company and great music. If you want to enjoy live music in a smaller venue that books big-city quality, give these a spin.

1. Rosa's Lounge (blues) 3420 W Armitage Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 (773) 342-0452

While you may not associate blues music with Italy, both influences are strong in Chicago's cultural genes and blend deliciously together at Rosa's. Italians seem to have a knack for infusing everything with love, and that holds true with Rosa's generous servings of the blues' best. Have you ever been to a mom-and-pop restaurant that ain't a fancy joint, but is magically luxurious because of the care that goes into preparing the food, and the unanimous appreciation of those who know that, despite its plain exterior, a sensual and indulgent treat awaits them inside? Rosa's Lounge is that aural and ambient experience for true blues lovers...warm, familiar and satisfying.

Chicago is sweet home to many a great blues legend and showcase, but why go to a famous blues club when you could go where the blues-famous hang out? Rosa's may not be the best-known blues bar in Chicago, but it has been recognized by both The New York Times and Rolling Stone as Chicago's blues mecca of choice. It definitely lives up to its name as "Chicago's Friendliest Blues Lounge, " often bartended by Rosa herself and overseen by her son Tony, a blues lover who met Junior Wells in Milan before immigrating to the U.S. in the 1970s. The headliners at Rosa's are the same great talents you'll see at the larger venues, and you may even be treated to someone "stopping by" after playing somewhere else.

The cover charge at Rosa's is usually less than other places (varies; $10-$15), and is one of the best entertainment bargains in town. Seating is available at both the bar and at tables, and even on the most popular nights it's rarely if ever uncomfortable. The waitstaff is responsive but unobtrusive, and there isn't a bad listening or viewing spot in the place. If you're picking up a memento, Rosa's probably has the best-looking "stupid souvenir t-shirts" ever unpacked from a suitcase.

Rosa's is located just northwest of the Loop in Chicago's Logan Square neighborhood. It is easy to find, but a bit out-of-the-way from the Loop and Near North nightlife centers. If you have a car, driving is recommended; if you take a cab, make arrangements to have the cab pick you back up at a designated time.

2. The Green Mill Cocktail Lounge (jazz) 4802 N Broadway St, Chicago, IL 60640 (773) 878-5552

The Green Mill is at a reviving intersection which is home to several musical haunts Dating back to the early 20th century - including the Aragon and Riveria Ballrooms. Today the Aragon and "Riv" are now the last stops for rising rock and pop bands before they hit the really big arenas, but they were once popular dance halls. My grandmother and her friends would take the El to these clubs when they were young nursing students, enjoying the big city life prior to serving in World War II. (More famously, The Green Mill was also frequented by notorious Chicagoan Al Capone.) That same swingin' sound still resounds within The Green Mill's smoky interior.

If you're not familiar with jazz or big band era music, The Green Mill is a comfortable place to expose yourself to these styles via some outstanding contemporary bands. Enthusiasts will appreciate the authentic live setting and variety offered by The Green Mill's schedule. Owner Dave Jemilo successfully merges an interesting combination of styles and talents. Spectators will be doubly impressed by the energy and camaraderie of those tearin' up the floor, and dancers of all abilities are friendly and inclusive to anyone interested in joining the fray.

The Green Mill's schedule runs into the wee hours, making it a popular late-night destination. It's also known for the Uptown Poetry Slam, a open-mike poetry-performance event, nurturing a new tradition and platform for Chicago's creative talent.

The Green Mill is just west of the Lawrence Red Line El(evated) train stop, near the northwest corner of Lawrence and Broadway. Parking in this neighborhood can be difficult on weekend nights, particularly if concerts are scheduled for the Aragon and/or Riveria, so public transportation is recommended. If you must take a cab from the Loop, the fare isn't too terribly painful as it's close to the Lawrence Avenue exit from Lake Shore Drive.

3. FitzGerald's (roots) 6615 W. Roosevelt Rd., Berwyn, IL 60402 (708) 788-2118

Logan Square and Uptown are Chicago neighborhoods, but if you're willing to venture just a little farther for your music, try FitzGerald's in the comfortably blue-collar suburb of Berwyn (it's just west of the Chicago city limits, southeast of Oak Park and I-290). Although it might not be a "hot" spot, FitzGerald's did warrant a look-see from Hollywood location scouts who thought it worthy enough to appear in major feature films including The Color of Money and A League of Their Own. Completely devoid of pretention (the building is a former hunting lodge, and the decor is Early American Brady Bunch) and rich with an interesting calendar of local and regional music acts and styles, Fitzgerald's will reward your short drive with a relaxing evening and reliably good tunes. Stevie Ray Vaughn, Los Lobos, Robert Cray, and The Neville Brothers have performed at FitzGeralds, and it's regularly noted as "the place to be" by radio personalities. Live music is the main attraction Tuesdays-Sundays; Sundays typically feature jazz/big band style music.

If you're trying to drag your friends from the suburbs out for a night of wholesome adult entertainment, this is an accessible place for nearly everyone in location, attitude, and genre. Fitzgerald's cover (usually less than $10) is an especially good entertainment bargain. A notable feature of Fitgerald's is the outdoor patio, open twelve months of the year (try finding that anywhere else in Chicago!). Those who prefer a performance to be "all about them" can step into the spotlight and showcase their songwriting or poetry skills on Tuesdays.

Fitzgerald's is about five minutes from I-290's Harlem Avenue exit and you can get there in "two turns" (onto Harlem, then onto Roosevelt).

By Macaire Meals Stewart - I have been a lifelong reader, writer, and artist. My professional career has focused these skills in technology, organizational development, and educational publishing. I currently am a FT researcher, writ...  

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