Where The Windy City Goes Indie: Chicago’s Hidden Indie Scene

Where The Windy City Goes Indie: Chicago’s Hidden Indie Scene

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There’s only one expert in all things Chicago, and he goes by Ferris Bueller. Kidding. But truly, when one thinks of Chicago, there’s images of the flawless skyline, the curves of Cloud Gate, the stretch of the Navy Pier.

But what if I told you there was a whole other world tucked in the streets of Chicago, stretching past the beaten streets of Downtown? Better yet— what if I said that city expert could be you?

These aren’t secrets of the indie, or something of urban legend. The staples I’ve accumulated and explored came from stories shared among friends and fellow travelers. Whether you’re a Pinball Wizard or bibliophile, there’s a special niche spot waiting in the neighborhoods of Chicago.

The Music

The Empty Bottle

It’s the premiere spot in Wicker Park to catch up and coming indie, punk, emo, and rock acts, among other genres. The Empty Bottle ushers in all without prejudice, offering a hole-in-the-wall atmosphere with the neighborhood it-spot since 1992.

I caught Seattle’s finest, Tacocat, who have since exploded to play songs before Bernie Sanders rallies and receive Twitter attention from ‘X-Files’ actress Gillian Anderson. If you’re looking to keep up with the cool, look no further than The Empty Bottle.

The Beat Kitchen

The Beat Kitchen

Photograph: Max Herman | Beat Kitchen

Stepping into The Beat Kitchen is like entering a reverse-speakeasy. The entry is tucked like a hole-in-the-wall bar, but an inconspicuous door leads into the venue space. The drinks are fairly priced and the space feels warn even in a chilled city. Whether it’s the energy radiating from performers on the stage or the wide smiles shared among patrons, The Beat Kitchen feels like a music home.

The Books



Quimby’s is a mecca of indie comics and stockpiled zines. Books of all kinds, exploring social issues, personal experiences, and unpacking philosophy, line every shelf and cranny in the shop. Sifting through comics helped me find a microfine by one of Chicago’s best comic artists: Jeffrey Brown. You might recognize that name from the “Darth Vader and Son” comics targeted for families. But his best work is indie and personal, and to find an original, diary-like book in Quimby’s was the ultimate souvenir.

Myopic Books


Stacks upon stacks of books, lined to the ceilings and climbing up stairs. That’s the immediate eyeful to grasp when stepping into Myopic Books, and it’s 25 years of collecting and exchanging in the making. Music and poetry performances dot their calendar weekly, which only brings the collective community element out even more. It’s open seven days a week in Wicker Park, ready for readers to climb the staircases and shuffle through the piles of novels.

The Niche Interests

Emporium Arcade Bar


Photograph: Barry Brecheisen

Craft beer and arcade games never matched better than in the massive Wicker Park space. Emporium Arcade Bar is two large rooms that feature wall-to-wall classic arcade games, from Marvel versus Capcom to a slew of pinball machines. The tokens are cheap and the beers are fairly priced, and the atmosphere is unbeatable. Set your brew on a shelf while you slay zombies, or watch live local musicians take the stage. Call it a geek’s paradise.

Reckless Records


Photograph: Sean Davis via Flickr

There are two Reckless Records stops: one downtown and another in Wicker Park. The Wicker Park stop is the far more famous and favored, but I was inclined to sneaking off the bustle of downtown into the newer shop. It’s all styles of music, from pop to indie alt, and there are some gems tucked into their selection. Picking up records at Reckless is like digging for a special kind of treasure, one that is preserved in their back room waiting for you to claim it. But that’s the best part of the experience: it’s special and yours. Just like your adventure itself.

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