THE BAD NEWS is that the glory days of Chicago house are history. There’s no more Shelter, no more warehouse raves, and fewer venues willing to let in under-21s, which has pretty much meant the end of club-kid culture. The good news is that none of this has stopped Chicago from growing a world-class danceclub scene. Pull out Section 3, flip to the “Dance” portion of the music listings, and you’ll find DJs spinning a couple dozen different kinds of music at name-brand clubs, dive bars, and a range of spots between the two.
If your idea of what a nightclub should be is based solely on the movies—all trance music, hot chicks, and Red-Bull-vodkas—you’re thinking of what’s known cozily as a “megaclub.” On one hand megaclubs are obnoxious, overblown, and overpriced. On the other hand, the spectacle and cheesed-out decadence are exactly what you need. The two that can usually strike a pleasing balance of quality and quantity of experience are Crobar (1543 N. Kingsbury, 312-266-1900) and Sound-Bar (226 W. Ontario, 312-787-4480). You’ll find the same overly hair-gelled hordes as you would at any big club in town, but the talent these places bring in are a step above, mixing a steady stream of the kind of arena-level DJs who in Europe are worshipped as gods with the occasional surprise underground act to bring out hipsters who wouldn’t be caught dead holding a Jager bomb.
When the sensory overload gets to be too much, head to the relatively austere Sonotheque (1444 W. Chicago, 312-226-7600). Its modest size, intensely good sound system, and nearly pitch-black lighting scheme can foster a mellow listening session or a small-scale dance riot depending on the DJ. They regularly host out-of-towners like Diplo and Carlos D, and their residencies—from a dancehall reggae night to the electro-gothic Dark Wave Disco—are a consistent good bet. Smart Bar (downstairs from the live-music club Metro at 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-4140) succeeds on a similar level. The sound there sticks more to variations on the four-on-the-floor beat, offering regular appearances by Chicago’s better-respected house and techno DJs, and gigs with MSTRKRFT, Matthew Dear, James Murphy, and other dance tastemakers.
For the person who likes to dance but doesn’t normally do dance clubs, Chicago’s blowing up with your so-called “hipster DJs.” Major Taylor, the duo Flosstradamus, and a gang of DJs working under the Life During Wartime moniker all pack their sets heavy on the kind of stuff—dance punk, hip-hop, Prince—that turns rock clubs like the Empty Bottle, Hideout, and Double Door into unlikely dance spots for unlikely dancers. They’ve all got regular residencies, but Flosstradamus’s monthly Get Out of the Hood parties at the Town Hall Pub (3340 N. Halsted, 773-472-4405) most consistently take it off the rails.